Directed by: Francis Lawrence Written by: Mark Protosevich, Akiva GoldsmanBased on the novel by Richard Matheson Previously adapted as: The Last Man On Earth, The Omega Man Starring: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Salli Richardson, Willow Smith Distributed by: Warner Brothers Film will be released on 26th December 2007 in the U.K. Review by Matt Holmes
rating: 3.5Out of the three adaptations of Richard Matheson's truly amazing tale of the last man on Earth who survives only on routine and habit in a world where vampires rule the night, this Will Smith blockbuster action vehicle is by far my favourite. I Am Legend is better than The Last Man On Earth. It's leaps and boundaries better than Charlton Heston's The Omega Man. And for 2/3rd's of the movie, it is the best psychological dramatic horror flick of the year. If such a genre exists. It's still not a patch on the original novel and it's far from a 5 star movie. There's plenty of problems that will niggle and gnaw at you but it's dark and sombre tone makes this a fascinating Christmas release and a tour-de-force performance from a single leading man, very reminiscent of Tom Hanks' Oscar nominated performance in Cast Away. It's rare the Academy has the balls to nominate an actor's performance in a blockbuster like this but I would support the nod. It takes a special kind of actor to lead a film completely on his own with the majority of the running time, having no-one to play off against but himself. Just as effective as those shots in the opening of 28 Days Later, the movie opens with a desolate New York, a deserted metropolis where the sound in the sky only comes from the birds and the various animals who have survived this extinction. There's lions, there's deer and then there's Will Smithand his only friend, his female dog Sam. His 'Wilson' basketball if you will. Seeing Times Square as deserted as this is eerily effective and the image of Smith hunting down deer for food in such a usually thriving place where a fast food joint or a restaurant is only a hand's reach away, is one that is likely to stay with you long after the film. This isn't like the big blockbuster movie you were probably expecting with Smith's name branded on it, this one takes it's time to build from the beginning and is slow to give you all the answers on how this plague came about, and how Neville survives day in day out. It's the classic 'show and don't tell' stuff and it's the kind of thing you really appreciate as an audience. I Am Legend is void of the scenes in Independence Day when the aliens tell us their past history and what their motives are... much of the film is left up to our imagination and it's so much the better for it. What I loved so much about Matheson's book is that your journey begins well into the end of civilisation. Scientist Robert Neville has spent years living on his own, not quite sure why he continues to strive on in a world where he clearly has no future and unlike the apocalyptic movies Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later, Neville is fully aware of his situation from the start and it allows us to watch a character study of this guy without the 'filler' parts of other flicks. Credit should go to director Francis Lawrence (Constantine), who makes the extremely wise choice of showing us the madness that plagues Neville, and how living by yourself for so long damages the human psyche. I wish they had pushed the idea of Matheson's novel a little more with the selfishness of the lead character too, who is confused over whether he actually does want to ever see a human being again. The idea of loving a woman, forming friendships and the thought of suicide were sadly left out. I always thought Heston did a great job with that in The Omega Man, and Smith does here too when they let him play with the real darker moments (I love all the bits with the song...'every little thing is gonna be alright')... but I just wish we got a few more scenes showing case it. Once again with this tale, the third act ventures into another avenue than the original novel and it really hinders the film. The last twenty minutes are not great and the enjoyability factor quickly diminishes as you see the film crumbling before your eyes but the powerful message by the film's end is still intact. It is a shame the CGI creatures didn't look better and I missed Matheson's idea that the vampires were recognisably human and the character of Cortman I wish had been introduced. Still, this is fine work and the best adaptation of I Am Legend so far. In fact for the first 50% of the movie, I don't believe we will ever see this novel adapted in such a powerful way. If I had my way, I wouldn't even have showed the monsters at all. Maybe once or twice on a rare occasion and let the voices do most of the work as they do in Matheson's novel. Hell, sometimes it's even hinted at that the vampires could be a figment of Neville's imagination. I would have loved some more of that. Still this is a very good movie, with a rather lame ending. Go watch it, have fun with it... then read the novel.
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