I Am Legend [2007]

There are people out there who don’t like Zombie movies. I suspect there are lots of them, but I think its fairer to say that there aren’t a lot of people who absolutely love them. They’re a sub-genre that is, I suspect, tolerated by fans of the wider genre rather than embraced with the full love and respect afforded to, say, Vampires.

I can definitely understand it. Zombies are, let’s be fair, not usually a very dynamic threat. Until recent evolutions in the genre, your basic Zombie was not really much of a threat to any able bodied adult. What they lacked in individual dynamism, they made up for in pure numbers. And let’s also admit right up front that many Zombie efforts are, well, a bit lame.

Whether this is the main reason, I’m not sure. It has recently occurred to me that a second thing to really not like about Zombie movies is that they depict the utter desolation of human civilization. A zombie has no culture, and no individual personality: and likewise, they force the break-down of the civilization of those who remain alive. Everyone secretly thinks “wow, being a Werewolf would be such a personal tragedy: COOOL!” Or words to that effect. Absolutely nobody wants to be a Zombie. And, if you should find yourself up against The Mummy, you can be sure that your comrades will band together with you. In Zombie movies, the Zombies being so little a threat, it’s the other people you’ve got to watch.

And obviously, accompanying the break-down in civilization is isolation. Human beings are gregarious by nature; and I think that the isolation and loneliness that the Zombie enforces is perhaps his least appealing tool of terror.

Which brings me, before to the movie itself, to the advertising campaign for I am Legend. We see Will Smith, basically alone, and a clip of him saying “social de-evolution is complete.” We expect, as we did in Cast Away, that this movie will have almost exactly 1 actor in it. But, we’re thinking, at least the monster is probably now going to actually be scary, because he doesn’t have a close knit group of survivors to kill him.

The movie itself opens with a break-neck scene of Will Smith powering through desolate and overgrown NYC futilely hunting some kind of large beast. Eventually, he encounters some kind of deformed lions, and we cut into his daily routine of paranoia. Slowly, over the next act, we explore what it means to be the last living man in NYC. And I found this part of the movie to be very engaging. We see a person with all the signs of struggling through adversity. Let’s face it: we love that shit.

Without much preamble, the Zombie is then shoved directly into our face as Will’s dog runs into a “hive”. It’s a very tense and well-shot sequence, which had many people in the audience with me jumping and screaming in fright. The monster is everything we’ve been hoping it will be. A zombie, but fast, and somewhat cunning. It lacks the visceral punch of a rage-infected from 28 Days Later, and suffers a bit from looking unreal. A surfeit of CGI, I suspect. But nevertheless, a terrifying reflection of the human condition that is far more convincing than any Romero Ghoul.

And then, we’re out of the horror movie. The rest of the movie spins out deftly enough, showing the fatal mistake and circumstance that least Will to find the cure for Zombie-ism, and his noble death defending it. We’re introduced to other survivors, and a world that Will clearly knew about, but was concealed from the audience by his blithe dismissal of its reality. We see the circumstances leading up to his present situation, and gain some understanding of little character moments that we’ve observed. All, as I said, executed adroitly enough.

That half hour or so is probably enough to earn the movie the price of admission. It’s the kind of cinema that will be crippled on DVD: it’s old fashioned big-budget stuff that really makes you jump. But the rest of the movie rides that emotional energy into the ground, and slowly trades credibility for plot expediency.

My main problems were three. I found the flashbacks to his life at the time of the outbreak really didn’t bring anything to the story that couldn’t be inferred very easily. So, they come across, and are shown, at distinct breaks in the story flow. Their purpose is clearly, not to build sympathy with the character, but hide the segues between Acts.

The second problem is the ending which is such blatant “Go America” propaganda that it in one blow reduces a tale about the fundamentals of the human condition into an advert for one specific way of life. It feels completely tacked-on: an arbitrary happy ending to pick people up and cheer them up after what is a reasonably grim circumstance.

And the third problem, though by far the least, was the gaping plot hole which opens the third act. It suggested so much, and actually ended up saying very little.

What do I conclude then? It’s a go-to-at-the-movies movie. It delivers the best that Hollywood seems capable of these days in this genre. It is liberally littered with inspired moments of character and story. But it’s not a must-see, because it doesn’t seek to string these moments together into a great movie. It settles, ultimately, for being a Hollywood Blockbuster, and relies upon slick production and a charismatic lead to cover its plot holes and lost potential.

7 / 10

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19 Responses to I Am Legend [2007]

  1. Anonymous says:

    OMG! It’s a book. Didn’t have a clue. I basically thought this was the stupidist name for a movie ever and never had any intention of seeing it.

    I’m pretty much sick of movies. They generally fail on every level. Sure there are interesting movies out there, good independents, but even independent movies aren’t doing anything new, they aren’t pushing the boundaries.

    Currently I am finding television so much more compelling (and reading). Television (that I have been watching) is pushing its traditional boundaries, finding new stories and new ways of storytelling. Sure there are still far too many cop/lawyer/medical dramas but those are the staple diet. Hollywood is seemingly turning everything into an action movie these days and its getting a little tired.

    Also I’m pretty much sick of the lack of imagination by movie producers. Why does it always have to be based on a book? Make up something new. Challenge yourself, push the boundaries. Believe in your audience.

    I constantly find that I have to dumb myself down to enjoy a movie.

    /rant about movies.

    • jarratt_gray says:

      I want to freaking cry because lj sucks and keeps logging me out. That was me btw. Though maybe I should have stayed anon. ๐Ÿ˜€

      • mashugenah says:

        Not only is it an adaptation of a book. It is the third movie to adapt this book.

        I find myself bored almost every time I turn the TV on. What are you watching that I’m not? ๐Ÿ™‚

      • jarratt_gray says:

        Er… I’m not turning the tv on. I just download stuff. Heroes, BSG, Friday Night Lights come to mind. The first seasons of 24 and Lost pushed some quite traditional TV boundaries, and while 24 is pretty much continuing to do exactly the same sort of stuff no one else seems to be trying it. BtVS is still one of teh only programs I know that ditched a traditional end of season cliffhanger in favour of a complete season story arc. Other shows like Sopranos, The L Word and even the West Wing challenge the viewer IMO. Not everything is on right now and not all TV is great. In fact the percentage could be the same of good tv to good movies, but I find the tv that is good is more challenging than the movies that are. Also with TV you get more than 2.5hrs, a heck of a lot more character development and a lot less overblown action. Television action is far more considered and dramatic, because the timeframe and budgets are lower the producers have to look for the dramatic story within the action. Much more compelling IMO.

        I still want 24 to do a full episode car chase though.

      • jarratt_gray says:

        Oh and Veronica Mars. Actually that went for the complete season story arc thing like Buffy in seasons 1 and 2 for the most part, and Heroes tried to do it in season 1 but it only really resolved the issue not the character story and left everyone with a pretty major Cliffhanger. We kind of ignore Heroes season 2.

        Also I would give shows like Rome and Deadwood a pretty strong nod. Deadwood was excellent in season 1 and pretty solid in seasons 2 and 3. Rome was quite intriguing but not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea.

        As for stuff I discovered on TV – both Californication and Burn Notice are things I tape to watch, even though I missed a bunch of episodes of the first. Its a really funny half hour dramady, kind of like a guys version of Sex in the City. I would have expected a guys version of SitC to be very sleazy but this manages to pull it off and David Duchocny is so damn likable.

        Burn Notice on the other hand isn’t really trying to push the boundaries, well not forwards anyway. It is like a classic 70s and 80s show with an ongoing subplot and an adventure every week where the main character helps someone out. A mixture of MacGuyver, Knight Rider and a little bit of Miami Vice or something. It’s pretty light but it is fun. Definitely Guy TV.

      • eloieli says:

        I really enjoy Burn Notice. But you know what? Natalya likes it more than I do. So it’s not *just* guy TV.

      • exiledinpn says:

        You tried The Wire?

        Think of it as a social critic novel in five seasons, about what is wrong with contemporary America and baltimore in particular.

      • jarratt_gray says:

        Homicide was great cop drama in the 90’s that pretty much redefined the genre, also set in Baltimore. The Wire could be interesting even if it isn’t the thing I would immediately be drawn to.

      • exiledinpn says:

        They’re both by the same guy. The Wire is like Homicide, only better (and presents an even more dysfunctional police force).

        I’ll bring down a DVD on Saturday.

  2. mashugenah says:

    I, with the rest of the unwashed masses, have not read the book. :/ Is the book good?

    • grendel_khan says:

      its one of those – inspired a genre type books, in that its supposed to be the first ‘zombie’ genre book.

      both romero (or someone else, not 100%) and stephen king credit it with getting them into the horror genre, though in kings case (imo) that might not be something to be proud of ๐Ÿ™‚

      like rachel i enjoyed the movie for itself but prefer the book as medium on that title (if that makes sense).


  3. jarratt_gray says:

    “Mostly what I like about TV shows is the scope they have for character development or multiple sub-plots. Depends on the show, though.”

    Yeah definitely. Not all TV is great and not every episode of a series is great, but there is definitely a lot of interesting stuff going on in TV now.

  4. Anonymous says:

    What frustrates me about TV is that often the writers will set up these cool situations and plots… and then do everything in their power to hold the situation static to continue exploiting the dynamic that worked originally.

    House is the most prominent example in my mind right now. I watched Season 1, and was entertained. Then I caught an episode of Season 3 and… nothing much had changed. The basic character dynamics were intact. So, there was no discernible character development in that time.

    BSG and Heroes annoyed me for making the personality and circumstances of the characters perfectly malleable to the demands of the story.

    • jarratt_gray says:

      I agree that most TV keeps characters in a status quo. But what interests me is the television that breaks out from the norm. I see television doing this more and more while movies tend to all be moving toward some blah form of action blockbuster.

      I’m not sure I understand where you are coming from in reference to BSG and Heroes. I think story and character come together. I believe the story of Heroes is driven by the characters, while the characters of BSG are mostly driven by the story. In either case the characters have to adapt, especially in Heroes where multiple characters are driving different story.

      Now I’m not saying Heroes is perfect. I fully enjoyed the first season, but there were still things that annoyed me. The point is that they are trying something different with their medium. For the most part I felt the first season succeeded, and there are some really stellar episodes in there. But Heroes has far less time for characterization than other shows because of its style.

      The main problem with season 2 Heroes was that the writers were afraid to move their characters forward, preferring the status quo of the previously successful season. They have discovered this is not what their audience wants. Lost had similar problems in season 3.

      Er… anyway, despite the flaws I just think television is more interesting right now.

      • mashugenah says:

        I’m not sure I understand where you are coming from in reference to BSG and Heroes.

        It’s often stuff that’s just around the threshold of being noticed. In BSG, there was no consistency between the Captain and President. If the shape of the story looked like they should be enemies/rivals, they were. If the shape looked like they should be friends/allies, they were. It seemed like the writers came up with a bunch of stories and then just shoehorned the characters into them.

        That’s my basic feeling about Heroes Season 2. They’ve written a bunch of little vignettes and are now desperately splicing them together to try and make a story, and just putting whatever character seems to roughly fit, and having them do whatever the story demands.

        Some shows do have the story and characters come together. B5, for example. Characters went through changes over the show: but you could always see why they might be acting a little oddly, and observe trends in behaviour changes. Not so for Heroes. I’ve given up trying to figure out how any character will respond to any situation based on their personality.

      • eloieli says:

        I found the dynamic between The Admiral and the President in BSG interestingly protrayed. Rather than have them be totally at odds or the opposite they have driven the story of their realtionship based on the characters and their drivers.

        Fundamentally they seem to respect each other however they also disagree strongly on many things. I have only ever watched BSG in stints of 4 or 5 hours at a time, so you can really see the way things progress in a much more wholistic fashion…

  5. Yeah, I kept waiting for the book’s conclusion until the final frame.

    I enjoyed it, but I think it would have been a stronger movie if they had gone for the book’s conclusion, in some form or another. I was absolutely ok with the various stylistic and character changes they made, but felt that the basic concept behind I Am Legend should have been kept.

  6. eloieli says:

    I just bought the book. It’s for sale in Whitcoull’s (and presumably elsewhere). Unfoirtunatley it does have will smith on the cover, which, when the main character is described as fair skinned, blond haird and blue eyed, is a little incongruous.

    The first three chapter, read over lunch, were very good and very dark.

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