Reviewed by: David Criswell, Ph.D.
|Featuring:||Will Smith, Alice Braga, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Willow Smith, Charlie Tahan|
|Producer:||Michael Tadross, David Heyman, Neal H. Moritz|
|Distributor:||Warner Bros. Pictures|
“The last man on Earth is not alone.”
Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “‘My name is Robert Neville. I am a survivor living in New York City. If there is anybody out there …anybody. Please. You are not alone.’
Robert Neville (Will Smith) is a brilliant scientist, but even he could not contain the terrible virus that was unstoppable, incurable, and man-made. Somehow immune, Neville is now the last human survivor in what is left of New York City and maybe the world. For three years, Neville has faithfully sent out daily radio messages, desperate to find any other survivors who might be out there. But he is not alone. Mutant victims of the plague—The Infected—lurk in the shadows… watching Neville’s every move… waiting for him to make a fatal mistake. Perhaps mankind’s last, best hope, Neville is driven by only one remaining mission: to find a way to reverse the effects of the virus using his own immune blood. But he knows he is outnumbered… and quickly running out of time.”
In 1954 Richard Matheson wrote a science fiction novel which posed the question, “what if vampires took over the Earth?” In the original story, Robert Neville was the last human being on Earth, being stalked by a planet of vampires. This popular story has since been made into a movie four times. “I Am Legend” is the fourth adaptation starring Will Smith of “M.I.B.” and “I, Robot” fame.
This newest version of “I Am Legend” borrows heavily from the Charlton Heston version entitled “The Omega Man” which substituted vampires with mutated victims of a strange virus, but it borrows even more heavily from “28 Days Later” in which a deadly virus creates mutant zombies that writhe and attack without regard for their own safety. In this respect, “I Am Legend” is a radical departure from “The Omega Man” for the chess game between Neville and the leader of the vampire cult is gone, since the vampires of “I Am Legend” have no intellect. In the movie, this new virus effects both the mind and body, making it impossible for them to live in the daylight and becoming violently anti-social.
If Vincent Price’s “Last Man on Earth” was classic B-horror and Charlton Heston’s “Omega Man” was classic sci-fi action, then “I Am Legend” clearly went for a more somber tone. The director went to great lengths to make the viewer feel what is like being the last living man on Earth. In this he succeeds, but perhaps too well. We see animals running wild in the deserted streets of New York, and great care is made to give the city not only a deserted look, but a look of antiquity, as if no one had inhabited the city for years. Grass grows up out the cracks in the concrete, Central Park is overrun with trees and animals, and the buildings look dilapidated and unkempt. The problem is that we see Neville plodding through his daily routine for a full hour before anything significant happens.
Neville is a scientist who was working on a cure for a new virus which turns people into vampire like creatures. That virus was itself created by another scientist who thought she has found a cure for cancer. Soon the virus spread over the entire planet. Only a few people were immune, including Neville. Believing himself the last man on Earth he spends his day hunting for vampire conclaves, and kidnapping some to experiment upon while seeking a cure. Eventually, Neville finds that he is not alone. He encounters two other survivors and must fight to save them, and get the cure to other survivors.
Spiritually “I Am Legend” is unique inasmuch as it is one of the few Hollywood movies to present religion in a positive manner. Considering the subject matter this is particularly a pleasant surprise. Even in the background there are posters which may be seen on the walls of some buildings reading, “God still loves us,” and similar messages. In another scene, a woman is seen offering a prayer to God for the protection of her children. More significantly, the female survivor claims that God told her to come to New York and insist that their meeting was no accident (she arrived just in time to save his life). However, Neville becomes angry saying, “There is no God! There is no God!” He further ruminates “God didn’t do this, we did.” She retorts, “God sent me here for a reason” and “if we listen, we can still hear God’s plan.” At a critical point late in the movie, Neville tells her, “I am listening.” Moments later he sacrifices his life to protect her. In this same scene he is seen shouting to the vampires, “I can save you! Let me save you!”
Now the theology is obviously mixed. Neville is a poor Christ figure, although he is presented as such at times, but the message of sacrifice and the sovereignty of God clearly elevates the movie. Having said this, the movie is not for young children. Although the movie surprisingly has no real foul language (although it does have a few exclamations of “God!” and “hell”) there is ample violence. There are bloody faces, terrifying and rather grisly appearances of vampires. The list of violent scene is frankly too lengthy to list here, although the scenes are not as bad other PG-13 films such as the atrocious “Beowulf.” The intensity of the scenes is far too strong for young children, so the reader is once again reminded that PG-13 means that children under 13 should probably not be watching it.
Cinematically, “I Am Legend” works on many levels but suffers from its own brooding pace and the all to popular “shaky camera” technique. This new fad in filmmaking is supposed to make the action scenes look more intense, fast paces, and exciting, but it really just gives the viewer a headache and blurs the scene so you cannot really tell what is going on. Of course, that also hides the fact that most action scenes are completely unrealistic, such as when Neville falls out of the second story of a building and doesn’t get a scratch. Still, the movie is effective overall. It gives a somber feeling of being alone and introduces, albeit mildly, a religious message. The movie itself ends with a church bell tolling, as the cure for the disease is brought into safety.
Remakes are always at a disadvantage because they are inevitably compared to the original. “I Am Legend” at least tries to be its own movie and comparisons the “Last Man on Earth” and “Omega Man” are limited in scope, for each is a very different movie. Standing on its own, “I Am Legend” is a good movie, but it is by no means for all. If you enjoy a somber semi-apocalyptic film with action and violence thrown in for good measure, you may like “I Am Legend.” The spiritual theme is too thin to support the movie on its own. Nevertheless, it certainly works to elevate the film far above the typical zombie apocalypse.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.