"I Am Legend" is not quite mythical

Dec. 18, 2007, midnight | By Boris Vassilev | 12 years, 6 months ago

Powerful acting and strong suspense fail to make up for shallow plotline

A flashlight pans across the otherwise dark screen, only the quiet, tense music and the ragged breathing of the man holding it teasing the senses. Suddenly, a sick sliding sound is heard to the far left and the light beam pans across the inside of a dilapidated office building, revealing droplets, then streaks of blood. To the far right, an animalistic snarl is barely audible and then all hell breaks loose. With all the elements of a truly terrifying film, Francis Lawrence's "I Am Legend" skimps on the plot and needed depth, and lands amongst the almost-but-not-quite film pile.

The film centers on Robert Neville (Will Smith), and his struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic New York. The story goes that an engineered cure for cancer goes terribly awry, quickly mutating and infecting the majority of Earth's population. The virus decimates the earth's population, killing 90 percent, and turns the majority of the survivors into rabid, daylight-fearing cannibals. Within three years, the time the movie picks up the storyline, the infected "darkseeker's" anti-social hunger seems to have destroyed all of the immune, non-vampiric survivors. Neville's existence, which is reduced to talking to his dog Sam and attempting to engineer a cure for the virus in his underground laboratory, is upset terminally by the unexpected appearance of more immune individuals, Anna (Alice Braga) and her son Ethan (Charlie Tahan). The viewers are taken along for the monster mashing, night crawling ride.

As a book adaptation, "I Am Legend" is painfully disappointing. While the creative idea is kept intact and the base character of Neville is still present, the layers and many facets that make the book Neville a truly fascinating character are lost among the monster mashing of the film adaptation. As with the main character, many layers of development and small, worthwhile details are lost in the to-the-silver-screen transition. The plotline is fairly linear and, though there are some unexpected turns, is relatively predictable, a disappointing quality considering the rich depth of the original text.

Smith plays Robert Neville's tortured character beautifully. Seeking retribution and chased by personal guilt for the horror that has overcome the world, he manically spends his time attempting to develop a cure and "save everybody." Three years after the disaster, Neville is slowly becoming unhinged, the lack of human contact revealed when he sets up an entire shop of mannequins to talk to, and develops personalities for each of them I lieu of real people. The movie's touching moments are when Neville is with Sam, whom he treats like a real person and shows tremendous affection for. Overall, Smith portrays Neville's array of emotions, from rage and despair to tender care, exceptionally well, proving once again why he is a top-grossing Hollywood actor.

"I Am Legend" is, at its core, a scary movie, perhaps one of the only truly frightening films that have come out in the past several months. While the monsters themselves are not truly that terrifying, Lawrence's mastery in blending chronically tense moments with loud noises, sudden movements or the odd unexpected vampire attack is enough to make even the most level-headed horror film fan catch their breath. Unfortunately, often the shocks are so frequent and severe that the viewer might start to lose track of the film's plot and simply grip their seat, awaiting the next baring of fangs.

In one scene, Neville chases after Sam into a dark building where the dog followed a deer. The music cuts to a low, sharp tone and for the entire sequence, the only thing visible on the screen is the barely luminous light from Neville's gun-mounted flashlight. As the outlines of broken walls and blood stains dart in and out of view, viewers will find themselves straining to peer into the darkness, and perking up their ears to hear the barely audible, deviant screeches of the awakening vampires, inevitably setting themselves up for a shock as all hell breaks loose and Neville must run for his life.

From the aesthetic perspective, "I Am Legend" is one of the most striking films to come out in recent years. The silently haunting streets of New York city, complete with herds of deer and the beginnings of a grassland vegetation and a Manhattan bridge collapsed from military fire are enough to complete the picture of a world fallen from man's grasp and into chaos. The changes from light to dark and back, as signaled by the insistent beeping of Neville's watch, are another central theme of the film. During the day, Neville's activities, such as farming crops, playing golf and checking out movies, seem almost normal, in contrast to his nights, which are spent curled in his bathtub, clutching an automatic weapon and Sam as the infected walk the streets around his home.

"I Am Legend" is a poor adaptation and relies too much on shock tactics to gets its thrills. However, it is not a movie to be passed up, with very strong acting by Will Smith as the determined, if disturbed Robert Neville and its captivating visuals.

I Am Legend is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence

Boris Vassilev. THIS IS BORIS'S FIRST BIO EVER! Squirrels in the Montgomery Blair area have recently filed a restraining order against Boris. He copped their nuts and borrowed their hairstyles. (Just look at his legs!) More »

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