I Am Legend
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I Am Legend

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I am not a big fan of remakes, more times than not they are meager shadows of far greater works. Then, one comes along that might not be great stands enough on its own that it can be considered a reasonably good movie. Case in point, the remake of ‘I Am Legend’ and all things considering it works as an enjoyable piece of entertainment. The original story was published by science fiction great Richard Matheson back in 1954. The basic plot is there was a plague that killed most of humanity and turned the survivors into vampires. One human being is left and wages a constant fight to stay alive. The first filming of this story was in 1964 with 'The Last Man on Earth' staring Vincent Price. In 1971 Charlton Heston was in 'The Omega Man'. There is some dispute as to whether 'The Omega Man' was actually based on the Matherson novel but the general consensus is that it was. As such this 2007 version is the third time the tale has been brought to the big screen and mot likely not the last. We are now over four decades after the initial film and thirty after the first remake so it is only natural for the focus to be altered. First and foremost is the use of special effects. There is more computer driven magic here and that makes this a completely different take on the story. Audiences now demand more action in a science fiction story and this film does deliver on this account. Still it is true to what people expect from this story. Before seeing this film it would be a great idea to get the novel and read it. It is a different experience completely and will set up a different tone when watching the film.

In some ways this film works as a blockbuster action flick despite some of the resumes of the production team. It just proves that previous works may not be an accurate prediction of a current opus. For example there are two principle writers in the credits; Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman. Protosevitch has some experience writing for big action films and specials effects with his scripts for 'Poseidon' and ‘The Cell’. Goldsman has the strongest background of the lot with scripts for hits like 'The Cinderella Man', 'The Da Vinci Code' and 'A Beautiful Mind'. He also wrote two of the lamentable Batman franchise but in light of his more recent accomplishments this can be forgiven. John and Joyce Corrington who wrote the 1971 'Omega Man' screen play are also credited for concepts and characters. It seems to be a tradition at this point that the script for the film is not true to the Matherson masterpiece. What this screenplay does deliver is a modernization of the concepts of the novel set in a post 9-11, post AIDS, world. The script degrades somewhat in the third and final act of the film into nothing more than non stop action. While this is alright for a pure adrenaline flick this is supposed to be science fiction and the standard for this genre is to provoke a bit more thought on the part of the audience. The script does work by parsing out the details of the virus that destroyed mankind slowly, not placing the exposition in one or two places. The way the story ends takes away the meaning of the title as originally intended by Matherson pushing the audience towards one of the possible conclusions.

The director Francis Lawrence has a resume that would not make you think action film. Okay, he did direct 'Constantine' which had less than stellar reviews. Prior to that he did mostly pop music videos featuring Brittany Spears, Jennifer Lopez and Janet Jackson; making this film a major step up in his career. Thankfully he does not rely on the overused technique of shaking the camera as if it had some neurological disease. He also adroitly avoids headache inducing rapid cuts. While the script is a major departure from the novel Lawrence does manage to capture the overall tone of the original work. He does a good job of keeping the story moving along and gives Will Smith the opportunity to show off his skills as an actor. His use of computer graphics is a little uneven. The opening shots of the deserted New York City are fantastic. I have lived and worked here all my life and to see the streets so empty is remarkable. As the movie continues the effects go down hill fast to almost comic results. Even with all the computer generated additions New York City remains a central character well employed by Lawrence.

The titles and rank of Army doctor Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville (Will Smith) are meaningless as the film opens. It is the year 2012 and a few years ago New York City was ground zero for a massive plague that wiped out humanity. Most of the human population is dead. A small percent lived but now have an aversion to UV light and must remain in the dark. Those that did survive unchanged are now hunted down by the vampire-zombie groups. Neville has fallen into a routine to keep his mind off the isolation. He has an automated message going you telling any survivors to meet him at the New York City South Street Sea Port. As one of the men who developed the original virus he feels responsible for what happens and is continuing to work on a vaccination. He thinks he has something derived from his own blood. His only companions are his dog, Sam, and some of the mannequins around town who have been named by Neville. Each night Neville has to lock himself in his make shift fortress home and ward off the advances and attacks of the night creatures.

Smith has diminished somewhat from his peak with summer blockbusters like ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Men in Black’. He still remains one of the best action heroes around though and that does a lot to making this film work. He is just of affable that the audience immediately identifies with him and becomes emotionally bonded to his plight. This is a difficult part for Smith since he normally plays well opposite other actors and here mostly he is talking to dummies and a dog. His personality and buff form make his characterization of Neville work very well. There is a scene on the Brooklyn bridge that is epic, the most expensive ever shot here in NYC, and Smith still pulls out a great performance that almost makes you forget the special effects.

20th Century Fox has several ways to purchase this film on DVD; in fact they pretty much have something for every taste and preference. There are two standard DVD releases, one Pan and Scan, we won’t even consider that one, and anamorphic widescreen. Then for those with high end systems you can choose between Blu-ray and HD-DVD. The best buy for most may be the DVD special edition. This edition has four Awesome Animated Comics: ‘Death As A Gift’, ‘Isolation’,’Sacrificing The Few For The Many’ and ‘Shelter’. There is also DVD-ROM extras available through web links. The second disc of this set features an alternate theatrical version of the film. Any way you get this movie it is worth it. While not the best the genre has to offer it is solid entertainment.

Posted 02/23/08

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