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I am Legend

This post is divided between a spoiler free review and a more in-depth look with some spoilers.

First spoiler free...

Ah, Will Smith. Recently marked 5th out of the "50 Smartest People in Hollywood" by Entertainment Weekly, and justifiably so if I count as a judge. I've enjoyed Smith ever since the Fresh Prince days *blushes* and he's managed to grow into a self-made franchise. I am Legend is certainly in part testimony to his smartness and success. Not that I think Legend is particularly remarkable itself, but the way Smith pulled it off is, but you'd expect as much from the man.

I've never read the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson (but now it's on my list), nor have I seen the other movie adaptations; The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), and the 2007 straight to video horror release I am Omega. The first two are on my 'to watch' list, the latter - maybe someday. I kept relatively spoiler free too, only following the pretty trailers for Legend as they released. Coming from that perspective probably helped me enjoy the movie a bit more than many of the critics who gave it lukewarm reviews. Still, I can see where the shortcomings are. I have the opportunity to judge this purely on it's own cinematic merit, but even if you've never read the book or seen the other movies, this is certainly a story you've seen or heard before.

The talents of Will Smith along with a few other aspects, like the visual imagery experience and a splendid performance by the canine sidekick, kept the film interesting enough to sit through. There were a few visual gags in the first act that helped keep your attention on point, which was probably a smart pacing move.

Don't get me wrong - I really enjoyed I am Legend, and not purely by the merits of Will Smith. In fact, a lot of the things I thought were wrong with the movie were the things I actually liked, but then again didn't like. For one, it had an almost but not quite blockbuster style publicity campaign that didn't quite deliver what you'd expect. True, maybe it's just that I associate certain things with a Smith flick now, but what Legend actually is, is a bit more ambiguous. What was bad could be good, perhaps depending on how you look at it and try to tie it all together. I expected MIB and Independence Day style swashbuckling action, which I did partially get.

I certainly never want a movie to fall cookie-cutter neatly into place within a genre, and the fact that Legend is not well defined and therefore awash with subject matter and concept in part kept me interested, but also left me looking for the focus and directive of the plot. The "last man on earth" is certainly an interesting start, but there lacked a really big punch (like an exploding military space station the size of a small moon or the most evil villain being revealed as the hero's father perhaps?) to drive the story into true epic status. But really, that's part of the story. No one would have ever known the story of the last man on earth if it weren't for... well, that would just be a spoiler.

It's a drama, thriller, sci-fi and action movie, but it's also horror. It doesn't seem to want to choose, and that's a little distracting. The horror facet isn't straight up gore, but it's enough to make people who really dislike the horror genre be somewhat disturbed. I can't help but make the association of I, Robot meeting 28 Days Later, but with a heck of a lot less actors and extras, save for the few flashback scenes which were few enough that it almost seemed a film budgeting issue.

Overall I think sci-fi, action, and Will Smith fans will really enjoy this, but if you can't stomach some shock and horror spoused with psychological and emotional elements in a film, this one might be a pass for you. Not a bad second "real movie" (first was Constantine) for up and coming director Francis Lawrence. The Cloverfield and Dark Knight trailers are a bonus too!


Spoilers below!

But only a few. I have some continuity issues to address concerning the zombie-vampires (for lack of a better designating term - maybe "quasi-rabies patients" would be better?) and how they function within the story and plot. Maybe this is made more clear in the novel, but all I have is this movie to work with. It seems that Dr. Neville (wait, wasn't he a lieutenant in the police force or something?) had at some point concluded that the patients/ victims/ whatever-they-ares have lost all human traits. This wasn't hard to believe since the monsters as we began to see them exhibited only the most primal survival reactions relative to their disease, which was limited to droning in the dark as hives until the smell of fresh meat sparked a savage attack.

What was harder (for me) to believe was that the head honcho zombie-vamp guy... which in of itself was hard to believe that there was a leader at all, had enough strategic intelligence to set a sophisticated trap - a trap that he had to have had the patience and foresight to have learned from by the same contraption built by Neville. Not only that, but the head honcho was a dog handler! Yet still, all he could manage to utter were groans and shrieks of pure zombie agitation. It just seems too unlikely that even an "elegant" disease would effect everyone in the same way by wiping away all civilized characteristics, yet this one individual managed to grunt and groan his way to zombie presidency. Hmmmm. It seemed like they tried to give the zombie-vamps some sort of face or character, which I thought was entirely unnecessary. I would have liked to see more of a follow through. Perhaps if the zombie-vamp president actually had some sort of "moment" with Neville.

I thought the first reveal of the zombie-vamps was superb, with the dim light brushing by and showing a chilling glimpse. I wish they had sustained that tension by showing much less from there on. It pretty quickly switched over to obvious CG zombie-vamps. Movies like the original The Thing, and Signs gave cinema a valuable lesson in building more tension by showing less monster.

Other notes:

Gotta love the Batman plus Superman billboard and the gas prices! I wonder if there were more visual gags in there I didn't catch. Anyone?

Another continuity thing, but maybe I'm just picky... Sam the German Shepherd was noticeably either not the same dog all the time, or her coat quality and size slightly changed which I would attribute to changing seasons during principle photography and/or pick up shots. I have a dog, so I can't help but notice, but it's hard not to since she was also the co-star and one of the few actors! Her part certainly added one of the most affecting dramatic elements to the film.

The driving and hunting scenes, along with the abandoned streets of Manhattan were the major highlights for me, after the performance of Will Smith with his canine companion. I can't help but relate to that having a similar solo living situation with a very similar dog. Another funny coincidence is that the "safe haven" is in the same state that I live (for now). I kind of had to laugh at that, considering the isolationist attitude of Vermonters where the state motto between locals is "Welcome to Vermont. Now, Leave" and there are still movements working to segregate from the Union. When 9/11 hit, which Legend has a lot of connotation to, Vermonters were almost as horrified at the prospect of people migrating there from urban areas as they were at the event itself.

My favorite shot from Legend


Sarlacc-Pitt said...

Excellent review! I'll try and see this soon, hopefully I can catch it at the theater if possible.

Quick question. Is it one of those movies you have to see in the theater, or can I wait for DVD?

*pours beer, waits*


starthunder said...

well hai sweetie-pitt! *orders two more beers*

i think you could go either way. youy'll probably have a different experience seeing it in the theater, especially with the manhattan-scapes, but i would say it's not quite as a big screen must see as something like transformers. still, it's a really good big screen experience.

just try to catch a matinee, and you'll pay a bit less :)

Sarlacc-Pitt said...

Those were good beers...


(forgot about this!) :D

nob01 said...

I think you enjoyed this more than me.

The last 15 mins ruined it.

*drowns annoyance in pitcher of cheap lager*