Monday, December 17, 2007

I Am Legend

I Am Legend
Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Will Smith

I liked it. That's what some of you are wanting to know, in short, so I'll just tell you right at the beginning. That's not to say that I thought it was the perfect film, because it definitely was not without its problems. But overall, I appreciated it a great deal.

The history of this movie could qualify as legendary, with Warner Brothers attempting to get it into production since 1994. With talks of directors as diverse as Ridley Scott, Michael Bay, and Guillermo Del Toro attached to the project, and actors like Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in negotiations to play the role of Robert Neville, the possibility was certainly present that the whole thing could have been canceled altogether. Budgetary concerns for the studios nearly did just that, with rewrites continuing all the way through filming to get the budget down enough to make the project a reality. Most of the problems came with the logistics of shutting down sections of New York in order to give that eerily empty feel to the city that has supposedly been ravaged by disease. Turns out it was worth it, because I thought that was one of the coolest parts about the movie.

Eventually, Francis Lawrence was signed to direct, a surprising choice as a director since most of his work has been on music videos. He's directed videos for Color Me Badd, Third Eye Blind, Aerosmith, Nelly Furtado, P.O.D, and way more. I never saw Constantine, his only other real movie, but I thought he proved him abilities with I Am Legend. For a huge blockbuster-type movie, there was a real intimacy about this film that came as a result of a few factors. One was Lawrence's direction - his shot selection was spot on and there wasn't ever a time where I thought the movie was hindered by unnecessary scenes. Another was the editing, which was fantastic - the suspense in this film was intense as anything I've seen in recent memory (1408 being a good comparison), and the film wasn't overly long. An hour and forty minutes was a very respectable run time that could have easily been stretched into a two and a half hour epic by other directors. The final thing that really held this movie together was (not surprisingly) Will Smith.

In his first Castaway-type role (he actually cited Tom Hanks' performance as inspiration for the movie), Will Smith proves again that he is one of the most solid actors working right now. For someone who had the normally-inauspicious start of converting from rap to acting, the Fresh Prince has truly come a long way. The story follows Robert Neville, the military virologist who is immune to a worldwide disease, as he borders on insane after being alone for over 1,000 days searching for a cure for the rest of the remaining population, who have turned into flesh-eating "dark seekers" that are really glorified vampires. Whether you're a fan of the zombie/vampire genres or not, you can't deny (well, I guess you can if you want) that Will Smith was excellent in this movie.

(Warning: Spoilers Ahead)

Sam the dog was another reason why such a big movie like this had such an intimate feel. I'm not even a dog person, but that thing was awesome. Watching the relationship between Neville and his daughter's dog through the first half of the movie, we realize that Sam is one of the few things that keeps Neville from killing himself. The intensity level skyrockets when Sam chases an animal into the darkness, and the first real danger of the movie is presented as Neville goes in after her. This part of the movie was my favorite. They hadn't shown us the "vampires" yet, and everyone knows that the suspense of not knowing what something looks like is a lot scarier than having already seen it. But getting back to what I was saying, the dog (and her eventual death) was a key factor in making the movie so personal because she was Neville's lone companion; everyone relates to the feeling of loneliness and that translates to the audience not wanting Neville to be alone, so to kill off the dog was a huge emotional hit for both Neville's character and the audience.

So now on to my problems with the movie. I Am Legend fell into the same category as countless other films because the monsters weren't nearly as scary after you've seen them for the first time. They were too reminiscent of The Mummy for my tastes (with the extending jaws and the constant growling). There was one part in particular that I remember being really tense: I jumped when a creature came out of nowhere and sideswiped Neville, but then it got right on top of him and started gnashing its teeth, and I was immediately bored with it because it wasn't scary. Neville didn't seem to be in any real danger since he couldn't be infected. Granted, they could have eaten him or something, but we all knew that wasn't going to happen, so it took away from the urgency. Another major problem I had was first pointed out by either Jeremy, Josh, or Zach, I can't recall which: where was the radio broadcast of the Vermont survivor colony? Was Neville the only one with the technology it takes to transmit a signal? I find that kind of hard to believe. The appearance of Anna and Ethan toward the end was kind of a strange jump in the storyline, too. How did Anna fight off the infected when she rescued Neville from his suicide attempt? I thought Neville's reaction to them was relatively calm for someone who hasn't seen another uninfected human for three years. Also, it wasn't abundantly clear whether he knew about the Vermont colony or not. Either way, he obviously refused to leave his "ground zero," but when he tried to convince Anna that everyone was dead, I still didn't know if he knew they were there and was trying to convince himself that he should stay or if he truly thought everyone else was dead and gone. Finally, the colony in Vermont had a huge wall (some might even call it a "Great Wall") that sequestered the survivors inside their habitat. I don't know about you, but I saw the Infected jump and climb like nobody's business when they were trying to get into Neville's house, so I don't think that wall was doing anyone any good. If they could travel by night until they reached that wall, there is no way they wouldn't ravage that entire compound until there was nothing left. These are little problems, I know, but they still kind of bugged me.

With all that said, I liked the religious questions posed toward the end, when Neville has his awakening and sacrifices himself for Anna and Ethan to escape. While pretty formulaic, this still gives Neville an excuse for a purposeful death, which he lacked before his visitors arrived. This also ties in with other main questions the film presents: the more palpable "what would I do in that situation?" and "how do you survive like that?" questions, along with the more philosophical and social "what does this say about our society?" and "are we capable of unwittingly doing something like this?" The only other huge problem I have with the logistics of the storyline comes right after Neville's sacrifice: he tells Anna and Ethan to wait until dawn to come out of hiding in his basement laboratory, but he neglects to take into account the fact that there is no light that comes into that area. The Infected clearly saw the pair go into hiding (they were watching through a glass plate) and could have easily waited until they opened the door (or even forced themselves in) to kill them in the morning. If we are to believe that the Infected are smart enough to mimic the traps set by Neville, which are pretty elaborate I might add, are we really supposed to believe that they'll just magically forget that there is a supply of food (aka. Anna and Ethan) hidden behind a wooden door five feet away from them? Hmm...

I Am Legend was exactly what I thought it'd be - good. It would have been right at home with a July 4th release, bringing back the "Big Willie Weekend" with style. In a summer that broke ticket sale records with three-quels galore, it would have been a fresh take (albeit another remake) on some subject matter that actually poses a few valid questions to the moviegoing audience instead of simply entertaining them. Until next time...

Trivia: The bridge scene that serves as a flashback in the movie was the most expensive New York City shoot to date. It involved a crew of 250 people, a cast of 1,000 extras (including National Guard members in full combat gear), required the permission of 14 government agencies, took six days to shoot, and ended up costing $5 million.

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