Thursday, February 21, 2008

Almost a Review: I Am Legend

To those who have read the book it will come as no surprise that the later half of does not seem to fit with the first half. That's where the plot deviates significantly from the general outline of the story I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. I am fairly confident that even people who did not read this 1954 novel will find it unsatisfying due to this change in tone.

My comparison is to a sugar coated pickle. This starts out as a downer survival story, man against hostile world in a fantasy setting (albeit dressed up in good science fiction apparel). Like a pickle this is not a sweet story and if the movie director or writer tries to bring in too much of a sweeter story it does not fit. It did not have to come out wrong; it could have become a bread and butter pickle, sweet and sour, but it requires it be made that way from the start rather than putting syrup over it afterwards.

I have never seen The Omega Man, the 1971 schlock thriller, but the plot outline on wikipedia seems to show this version of I Am Legend is closer to it than than book. Who knows why writers Akiva Goldsman (Batman and Robin/ I, Robot) and Mark Protosevich (The Cell, Poseidon) and director Francis Lawrence (Constantine) remade a fundamentally flawed plot. But they did along with its 90 degree turn towards a hopeful save the world (off screen) ending rather than what seemed to be happening up to that point. The whole point of I Am Legend up to that point and in the original story is "The last man on earth... is not alone."

There is nothing wrong with going in a different direction than a book, this happens in the making of movies and with some stories it is for the best. Some of my favorite stories would be dreadfully un-commercial and movies have to make money. However they should have done so for the whole movie rather than just the second half. It almost makes more sense to have the movie after a certain point be a hallucination or dream before the end.

Still, Will Smith in this role is quite good. He is realistically shell-shocked and the sort of person who could survive. His mistakes are natural ones rather than random stupidity that so many characters in horror films are compelled to make by the lazy writers. And there are lots of utterly horrifying moments in it where I wanted to get of the theater it was so scary. The scenes of a totally empty New York are... incredible. Fantastic work there that is well used/done. The monsters are not 'disbelief breaking' unrealistic, but they are too fast, too strong, and too durable in retrospect.

I recommend this movie to people who like other survival disaster monster movies like 28 Days Later, Aliens, or possibly even Mimic. With the caveat that all of these are probably better films than I Am Legend. It is not bad, it just is not a movie I would have been happy seeing for full price and so I cannot recommend it strongly.

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