Film & DVD Review: I Am Legend

  • Director:Francis Lawrence
  • Writers (WGA):Mark Protosevich (screenplay) and
  • Akiva Goldsman (screenplay) …
  • Release Date:26 December 2007 (UK)
  • MPAA:Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
  • Parents Guide:View content advisory for parents
  • Runtime:USA:101 min
  • Country:USA
  • Certification:Canada:14A / USA:PG-13 / South Korea:12 / Ireland:15A / UK:15 / Finland:K-15 / Malaysia:U / Singapore:PG
  • Starring: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Salli Richardson-Whitffield, Willow Smith, Charlie TahanRichard Matheson’s sci-fi novel was first published in 1954. It has been filmed twice, as ‘The Last Man on Earth’ featuring Vincent Price in 1964 but more notably as the ‘Omega Man’ with Charlton Heston in 1971. It’s not surprising therefore that this film is being compared by many to the book or the earlier films. The book is an examination of isolation, depression and loneliness. These elements are certainly present in this film. The first part of the film shows only Robert Neville (Will Smith) on camera. There’s no dialogue as such. Smith explains: –

    “The process was very different for me because it’s all behaviour. It’s just an incredible exercise to not be able to talk yet have to communicate.”

    Smith studied and talked with people who had experienced solitary confinement. He brought what he learned to his expression of the character of Richard Neville – the only human survivor left in a City infected by a terrible man-made virus. Neville is holding himself together psychologically by sticking to a rigid daily routine but he is slowly losing touch with his humanity.

    Lawrence says: –

    “Neville is a very disciplined man. It’s what keeps him as sane as possible in a situation like this. His choices are extreme, but if that routine were to start to break down, it’s very possible that he would fall apart.”

    Just as in the book he tries to relieve the horror with music (classical in the book but Bob Marley in the film). At the London Press Conference Smith was clowning around. He is very quick-witted and funny but when he spoke about his acting and preparation for the role we saw his serious side. He created his own internal dialogue based on his research of how solitude effects people. This provides a depth which underlies the expression. I think he does a great job of portraying a man on the edge.

    The film hints at the drives of the main character, the guilt that he was not able to contain or cure the virus. Both the script and the film understate themes and that is what keeps you thinking and talking about it afterwards. I asked Akiva Goldsman about this at the London International Press Conference. Are those infected with the virus evolving (a theme dealt with differently in this film and the book)? He told me that he packed things into the film and just let the viewer react, he didn’t attempt to resolve everything. An incredibly interesting approach.

    As Smith says: –

    “It’s layered, and you just continue to peel each layer. And it’s interesting when you start to get down to the fourth and fifth layers where it’s a little more oblique and people can draw their own conclusions. This film is an experience, and hopefully it will be a cathartic one for the audience. Of course, we want it to be exciting, but it also brings up thoughts and questions. That’s the line we wanted to walk with this movie.”

    Maybe this is one of the things that might upset fans of the book but it worked for me. This film needs to be judged on its own merits.

    The film also works on an action level. The digital creations of an empty, ruined Manhattan are stunning. It is such a contrast to how Manhattan exists in the popular consciousness. As Smith says: –

    “You realize that in your entire life you’ve never seen an empty picture of New York. It’s a powerful image. When we cleared out that section of Fifth Avenue, it became clear that we were doing something unprecedented.”

    Neville scavenges in this landscape with a curious freedom. Yet it is a freedom which comes with risk. What will happen if he is accidentally injured? Will he be able to get home before the ‘infected’ come out at night? There is real peril communicated. To see the infected dogs straining to get to Neville as soon as the last remaining sunlight allowed them closer to him was great.

    The film left me thinking. The fact that it didn’t try to resolve and explain everything in the same way as the book was for me strength. It is not as bleak as the book but it is still pretty bleak! Let’s just say that ‘I am Legend II’ and ‘I am Legend III’ are not likely even though this has been a smash at the US box office!

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