December 14, 2007 I Am Legend
Studio: Warner Bros. Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
Previously, Richard Matheson's book "I Am Legend" has been turned into a movie three times. Twice those were big budget affairs. Vincent Price starred in the 1964 film "The Last Man On Earth" and Charlton Heston was the title character in 1971's "The Omega Man." There was also a direct to DVD version this year called "I Am Omega."
In this latest interpretation there is yet another new take on Matheson's tale.
Robert Neville (Will Smith) is the lone survivor of a plague which has wiped out the Earth's population.
Previously on film we've seen Smith battle aliens, western villains and killer robots. This time its an airborne virus which was trumpeted as a cure for cancer but carries with it deadly side effects.
Following the panic and widespread death of Earth's population, Neville spends much of the movie alone, accompanied only by his faithful dog. We see the routine of his life as he tries each day to reach out to other possible survivors.
Although its tone is radically different, there were times "I Am Legend" reminded me of the films "Castaway" and "1408." In those movies, the heroes also spent the majority of the story alone. That requires some pretty good acting. Both Tom Hanks and John Cusack pulled it off and Will Smith does here as well.
His scientest-soldier is single minded and focused. Although eventually you see cracks forming in his personality, Neville is a guy you believe could save the world. He's even featured on the cover of "Time" magazine.
The first part of this film is great. As Neville roams around a deserted New York the sense of loneliness is real. And one of the year's best scenes unfolds as Neville follows his dog into a dark and abandoned warehouse. It's tense and scary, choreographed to perfection with the perfect amount of offscreen tension and onscreen scares.
As it turns out, Neville really isn't alone. How he deals with others affected by the plague sets up a final act that while not a disaster, doesn't really fit the tone of the rest of the film. That's where "I Am Legend" suffers the most. The payoff isn't as good as all of the material leading up to the finale.
But, this is a solid science fiction story which is entertaining on many levels and definitely worth checking out.