Saturday, February 16, 2013

I AM LEGEND (2007) movie review

I am Legend (2007) d. Lawrence, Francis (USA)

The third screen version of Richard Matheson’s novel (preceded by 1964’s The Last Man on Earth and ’71’s The Omega Man) is the first true “Hollywood” take on the story and the end results are thoroughly confounding. While the backstory for the plague that wipes out the world’s population is inspired (a mutated cancer cure gone terribly wrong), one wonders how and why the virus had to turn the source material’s “vampires” into hopped up, steroid-sucking CGI monsters straight out of a Stephen Sommers Mummy movie.

Director Francis Lawrence and screenwriters Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman pitch Matheson’s themes of “who is the monster now” and hauntingly quiet desperation, replacing them lots of whiz and lots of bang. Taken on its own uber-Hollywood blockbuster terms, Legend delivers several mainstream crowd-pleasing set pieces (provided the crowd is not composed of fans of the book), tons of action, and oodles of shamelessly transparent viewer manipulation and screenwriting devices.

However – even though he never gets dirty enough, emotionally speaking, for my tastes – Will Smith does a commendable job in a difficult role and there are several unconventional surprises (i.e. the bacon scene) that are pleasant enough in their offbeat nature to offset the gloss. The ending is too optimistic, and could have (read as: should have) gone darker, but since the whole movie maintains an element of optimism throughout, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised.

Ultimately, it comes down to viewers’ individual expectations and sensibilities: Is it a satisfyingly jazzed-up action/horror offering or simply a goddawful bastardization of a terrific story, one whose faithful adaptation still awaits the light of a projector? Personally, I was and remain disappointed, but have not yet settled on the degree of my chagrin.

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