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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » January 30, 2008
Film review
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I Am Legend
January 30, 2008 By Witold Żygulski   
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I Am Legend is the third film adaptation of Richard Matheson's 1954 sci-fi novel, the other two being Ubaldo Ragon's The Last Man on Earth (1964) and Boris Sagal's The Omega Man (1971).

This latest effort was directed by Francis Lawrence (Constantine), best known for his music videos. I Am Legend is shaping up to be as big a hit with science-fiction fans as its predecessors, having already spent a few weeks at the top of the American box office. To those viewers not hopelessly devoted to Matheson's novel and its offshoots, however, this bewildering 100-minute mishmash of genres is more likely to be an endurance test. What starts out as a run-of-the-mill futuristic sci-fi flick morphs into a psychological study of solitude-induced insanity before ending up as a messianic drama about a divine plan for humanity.

A mysterious plague of global proportions breaks out in Manhattan in 2009 and army doctor Lt. Col. Robert Neville (Will Smith-Men in Black, Independence Day, The Pursuit of Happyness) sticks around to fight it. Fast forward three years and Neville, New York's sole survivor, is hunting deer and avoiding lions in the center of Manhattan with a German shepherd named Samantha. Film buffs will be aware that Terry Gilliam used a lions-in-Manhattan scene in Twelve Monkeys (1995). Neville talks to mannequins he has placed around town to stop the loneliness from driving him crazy.

Neville, whose apartment-turned-fortress has been decked out with paintings from the Museum of Modern Art, continues working on a vaccine to the virus. Scientists had once achieved stunning results in curing cancer by using genetic manipulation, as recounted by Dr. Krippen (a cameo appearance by Emma Thompson) in the opening scenes. Something went wrong and the "friendly" virus became a deadly plague which killed 5.5 billion people. Most of the earth's remaining population of 600 million turned into "dark seekers"-zombie-like creatures who hunt at night, devouring anything they can catch, and for whom sunlight is fatal.

Neville estimates that there may also be around 12 million people around the world who share his immunity. He therefore sends out radio messages to summon them. In the meantime, he uses the dark seekers he manages to catch as guinea pigs for his vaccine trials. He chants "This is Ground Zero, this is my site," to convince himself that his efforts are not in vain.

I Am Legend strums along as a monodrama for the most part. Just like Tom Hanks in Robert Zemeckis's Cast Away (2000), Smith struggles to hold the viewer's attention. Actually, with the assistance of Abby, the German shepherd that plays Samantha, he doesn't make too bad a fist of it before the script spirals out of control in the last half hour or so. The self-sacrifice of the hero, a sober-minded scientist, is completely unconvincing, and the idyllic image of a new community born somewhere in hometown America is painfully tacky.
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