I Am Legend

Nothing happened the way it was supposed to happen.

I Am Legend, it turns out, is the fourth film adaptation of Richard Matheson's 1954 novel of the same title, the first two being 1964's The Last Man On Earth and 1971's The Omega Man. As Auduster points out, the low-budget, straight-to-DVD I Am Omega was released almost exactly one month before I Am Legend, making it the third incarnation. Having never read the book nor seen the previous films, I approached this movie with a completely blank slate. This is in stark contrast to my previous film review which was largely a criticism of the dissimilarities between the paper and screen versions.

As this is a relatively new movie, I will try to keep plot spoilers to a minimum. That being said, a brief synopsis follows. Skip ahead if you wish to remain in the dark.

In the year 2009, humanity celebrates the discovery of a miracle cure for cancer. The celebration is short lived, as is all too often the case, when those treated begin to show early symptoms of what appears to be rabies. Eventually, the "cure" mutates into a full-blown viral infection, rendering its victims hairless, mindless, and extremely susceptible to ultraviolet light. Oh, and they develop an inexplicable and insatiable hunger for human blood. What you end up with is something between a zombie and a vampire. They are strong but stupid and hunt in packs like the zombie, but thirst for blood and cannot survive in sunlight like the vampire. The outbreak starts in Manhattan, prompting the President to quarantine the entire island. The infection naturally spreads worldwide in spite of this precaution. Enter Robert Neville, soldier and scientist, and one of the lucky 1% of mankind which is totally immune to infection. Marooned in the city for three years, the movie follows his daily life and continuing attempts to find a cure for what was once heralded as the greatest triumph of modern medicine. And, of course, the establishment of his status as "legend".

I Am Legend is described by Google as a "Scifi/Fantasy/Action/Adventure/Drama". For all they try to cram into it, I would add one more: suspense. The movie takes every opportunity to make you jump. And not just at the sudden appearance of things that go bump in the night, oh no. Peaceful scenes of the rolling grasslands of Manhattan are gratuitously interrupted by random wildlife. Giving a dog a bath? Perfect opportunity to slam your shutters shut with a crash. Even the already tense stuff has even more tense stuff thrown in on top. What better time to blow up a bridge or crash a helicopter than during a heart-wrenching evacuation of hundreds of people from a crowded dock? It's like you just got used to a hot tub despite it being four degrees on the hot side of uncomfortable when all of a sudden someone dumps a bucket of hot coals in your lap. Now, whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is entirely up to the viewer, or how the viewer is feeling that day. Personally, I enjoyed the shock value of the movie, but still felt like it was a little over the top at times.

While watching this movie, you will find yourself constantly asking "What would I have done?" Neville is constantly faced with important moral and strategic decisions, and he doesn't always appear to make the right choice. It's hard to forget that he hasn't spoken with another human for three years and his judgment might be impaired, but that doesn't stop you from saying "Well, that's not what how I would have done it." All in all, it makes for a thought provoking experience and some great conversation to have once the credits start rolling.

If I have any beefs with this movie, it's not what it does wrong, but what it doesn't do at all. There are too many unanswered questions. And with no room for a sequel (and rightly so), it's unlikely any of these questions will be answered. (Some of these questions may involve the plot, so be on the lookout for minor spoilers.) For one, we definitely get a sense of an emerging intelligence amongst the previously mindless infected horde. In the end, it serves only as a means to bring about the final confrontation. There's no explanation for why some zombies may be smarter than others, or what impact this has on their overall society. Then there's Neville himself. Sure, he was working on a cure, but I would imagine that a lot of people were once the shit hit the fan. So why does he make the cover of Time Magazine? There are more, but not wishing to delve too far into spoilerdom, I will refrain from digging deeper.

*** out of ****. In the end, I was pleased. Will Smith gives a pretty good performance for Will Smith and the smattering of other roles are filled appropriately. Lots of action with some much needed lulls in between, but always be on your guard. You never know when this movie is going to jump up and kick you in the nuts.

I Am Legend was released on December 14, 2007 and grossed $77 million its opening weekend, making it December's biggest opening yet. As of this writing, the movie has made a total of $256 million worldwide. Not bad for a budget of $150 million.