Written by: Austin Pearl, Special to CC2K
I love movies that take place in a post-apocalyptic setting. Really, I do. But all too often I find films from this niche genre end up getting filled with generic action, science fiction, or horror films: over the top action sequences, ridiculous looking CGI effects, and – in the worst cases – an infallible lead character who spouts preposterous one-liners with reckless abandon. So naturally, when I saw that I Am Legend starred Will Smith, I assumed the worst ("Oh no! He did not just shoot that green shit at me!"). But you know what? I went to see it anyway. Call me an apocalptaphile, but I just couldn't help myself.
I Am Legend follows the sad and lonely tale of Robert Neville, an Army scientist who is trying to find the cure for a virus that obliterated the planet. The opening scenes reveal a now deserted New York City; not a Planet of the Apes, “You blew it up!” kind of deserted, but more like a recently abandoned, “Let’s all get the hell out of here!” kind of deserted. Because of this, there are plenty of working cars sitting on the streets, an aircraft carrier still at dock from fleet week, and Christmas decorations abound (things apparently went to hell during that special time of year). The net affect is an apocalyptic future that's much more familiar, absent nuclear fallout or lapses of time so great the statue of liberty is now buried up to her neck. Despite the turn for the worse the world had taken three years prior, Neville has carved out a routine for himself: he grows crops in Central Park, visits the video store, and spends a lot of time hunting deer with his M-4. Even with all this filling his days, he still finds the time to hunker down in his retrofitted basement lab to continue working on a cure for the virus. Every day before dark Dr. Neville fortifies the house, at which time the "dark seekers" roam the city looking for food. The dark seekers are the percentage of the population that were infected by the virus, but survived–and are now light hating, meat loving, hairless, pale, vampirish, zombie like beings. More on them later …
One thing I Am Legend does exceptionally well is explore the human (and perhaps mammal) need for companionship, as Dr. Neville's only companion is his German Shepard. The moments in which Neville is driving through the city and talking with his dog are some of Legend's best. Concurrently, there are scenes sprinkled throughout the film that really strike the viewer with fear–at the prospect of ever truly being alone.
Speaking of fear, the dark seekers are scary, really scary. Surprisingly, the movie isn't packed with action or horror scenes; they're actually far and few between. However, by limiting the horror, the makers of Legend really focused on making the few scenes involving the dark seekers work. Because of this, the movie doesn't contain the type of action normally found in mainstream movies, and is certainly a departure for Will Smith, as his character is believably terrified and believably fighting for his life.
Without giving too much away, I endorse this movie. It's far from perfect, but aside from the opening scene in which Neville takes huge risks by racing through the streets in a Mustang (seemed more like a well placed ad to me) for no apparent reason, or the incredibly cliché appearance of a lion (just because the zoo shuts down, doesn't mean the animals magically escape), I was thoroughly entertained. (I will not say what else bothered me for spoiler reasons.) Had the film been packed with those horribly cliché moments described earlier, giving it away wouldn't be an issue. But the bottom line is that the movie was believable and genuinely scary, and in an era of crap after crap, that's good enough for me–even if it ends abruptly or plot lines are left completely undeveloped.