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Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I AM LEGEND
I AM LEGEND (2007). Director: Francis Lawrence.
This is the third film version of Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I am Legend [after The Last Man on Earth and The Omega Man] but it really seems more like a remake of The Omega Man than a faithful adaptation of Matheson's novel. [Indeed, the new screenplay is not only supposedly based on the novel but on the screenplay for Omega. I'm willing to bet that the screenwriters for this film never even bothered to read the source novel.] As in Omega, the lead character lives in a multi-million dollar town house [in Manhattan's Washington Square no less] and as in both earlier versions he's been turned into a scientist. The quasi-religious overtones of Omega have been slightly carried over into this remake as well, but are thankfully not as overt.
Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith) seems to be the sole survivor of a virus that has turned most of humanity into mutated ghouls. [These computer-generated creatures, referred to as "darkseekers" in the dialogue and "hemocytes" in the closed captions -- I watched this with a hearing-impaired friend -- relish blood but seem more like cannibals than vampires. This discarding or muting of the essential vampire element of the novel also reminds one of Omega Man.] The revamped measles virus was actually supposed to cure cancer, but instead it had a much more negative effect. As in Omega, Neville eventually meets up with another immune woman who believes there is a colony of survivors out in the country. Neville's wife and daughter have been killed in a copter accident while fleeing Manhattan, so there's no scene of his dead wife coming back from her grave as referred to in the novel and depicted in Last Man on Earth.
Smith gives a solid performance, avoiding the swaggering of Charlton Heston in Omega and never quite playing the role like the flippant "action-hero" that fills so many movies nowadays. Sam, the German Shepherd, is an appealing pet [played by two canine actors]. Alice Braga is okay in the thankless role of Anna, the other survivor [along with her son]. There's a tense scene with Neville hunting for his dog in the dark confines of a building infested with ghouls, a few suspenseful sequences, and the climax with the creatures rushing Neville's townhouse at night is exciting and well-handled.
But there are slack and illogical moments, and a scene with Shrek playing in the background goes on way too long. By default, this may be the best or at least most cinematic version of the novel [Last Man on Earth remains the most faithful], but it seems more influenced by all those Living Dead movies than by Matheson's book. The new storyline strips the title of its meaning, although the screenwriters try their best to live up to it with the closing monologue.
Verdict: The great film version of Matheson's novel has yet to be made, but this certainly has its moments. ***.