Boy has Will Smith come a long way! This reviewer has long been a fan ofÂ Smith's from the way-back machine's early days of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince through his memorizing all the words in each script of the first few epi's of his first acting gig on THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR television series and on into his grown-up years of Hollywood's all-around action hero and go-to guy for a big box office opening weekend payday.Â
I AM LEGEND is all Will Smith, all the time -Â and I assure you, you won't be bored for one minute as he tries to save the world once again. The ignorant might suggest that I AM LEGEND is a rehash of 28 DAYS LATER and its Rage Virus, but then that would be because they don't read, and didn't know that the story (also called I Am Legend) this film was made from was written by Richard Matheson way back in 1954. With that in mind 28 DAYS LATER would be the film doing the ripping off, don't you think? Remember that when you read reviews by so-called film critics complaining that this film is a rip off of others. There are countless films about rampant virus' and flesh-eating zombies. Some of them are fantastic, some boring, but none have better SpFx and none have Will Smith.Â
I AM LEGEND is the fourth film adaptation of Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend; following 1964'sÂ THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, 1971'sÂ THE OMEGA MAN and 2007 direct-to-video I AM OMEGA - and the first remake of this story to keep its own title. A CAST AWAY of sorts... but with zombies, Will Smith stars on his own (with a big assist from a great canine actor instead of a volleyball) as Robert Neville, an Army Colonel virologist who thinks he is the last man on Earth who survived a man-made (or to be exact, a woman-made) virus called the Krippen Virus.Â Â
Instead of being the cure for cancer that its creator (Dr. Krippen, played by Emma Thompson in an uncredited role at the beginning of the film) thought would change the world, the virus, piggybacking on a supposedly dead measles virus, has wiped out the world's population and turned the remnants into dark-seeking infected carriers ravenous for living flesh.Â Â
ÂIn flashbacks we learn that after losing his family while trying to evacuate them, and then quickly losing the human population of the world, Robert Neville realizes that he has a natural immunity to the virus.
The film opens with Neville driving a suped-up Mustang through the crowded streets of New York... crowded with empty cars and mounds of garbage left haphazardly all over the streets. He passes his days in aÂ highly structured hunt foraging food, other living humans, staying in peak physical shape (and showing off his great body for the audience), and working for a cure. He records his daily events on videotape and watches old videos of news broadcasts in an effort to ease his loneliness.Â
Neville is focused on finding a cure and has set up a lab in the basement of his Manhattan brownstone that he has fortified to protect himself against the dark seekers. He has regimented his every waking hour to find a cure and to try to find other humans still living but his work is hampered by the dark seekers, the mutant humans infected by the virus who have lost all skin pigmentation, all their hair, and cannot step out into the light; ultraviolet light turns them to ash.
Through flashbacks we see how Neville came to be in this predicament and how and why he is so dedicated to finding a cure. To find a cure he captures the infected zombies (who follow him closely and climb vertical walls way faster than any 28 DAYS LATER zombie ever could). He finally finds a cure when he captures a female zombie and tests her, but in doing that he incurs the wrath of the Alpha Male zombie who brings a multitude of undead flesh-eaters on a wild never-ending raid to grab them both. Neville thinks that all vestiges of humanity have been wiped out of these zombies but he soon learns better. These zombies have not lost all humanity, only changed it for the very worst.Â
Will Smith is captivating as the last man on earth, and his relationship with his dog and closest companion (called Sam in the film, the dog is uncredited) will bring tears to your eyes and break your heart. For protection they sleep together in an old claw-footed bathub with an Uzi by Neville's side, ready to take on the monsters that howl and prowl for human fleshÂ outside all night long.
Screenwriter Mark Protosevich, with a big assist by screenwriter-extraordinaire Akiva Goldsman, show great flair and restraint as they slowly reveal the details of the virus and its outbreak and how Smith is managing to get along in his post-apocalyptic world. Smith is full of despair, but he is focused and driven to find a cure. He visits a video rental store where he has set up mannequins who look like they are shopping in the store and he talks to them, wishing they would answer. When one of them is moved Neville's life changes forever.
Director Francis Lawrence has a deft touch andÂ SpFx and Production Design by David Lazan and Naomi Shohan and Art Direction by William Ladd Skinner and Patricia Woodbridge are tops. With a Manhattan rendered hopeless as the island prison it now is nature has slowly reclaimed the streets and waterways of New York City. The streets are completely devoid of other humans as deer run wild in the streets and are chased by zoo animals released from their cages.Â With I AM LEGEND Will Smith is well on his way to becoming his own well-deserved legend. It's just too bad that yet another dog had to die this season. If this is your fave genreÂ - as it is mine -Â I AM LEGEND is film you will want to see more than once.Â
Digital Dogs rating:Â A, an E Ticket ride
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violenceÂ Running Time:Â 101 minutesÂ
Producers Akiva Goldsman, David Heyman, James Lassiter, Neal H. Moritz, Erwin Stoff, Director Francis Lawrence, Screenplay Mark Protosevich, Akiva Goldsman from the story by Richard Matheson, Music James Newton Hoawrd, Editor Wayne Wahrman, DP Andrew Lesnie, Actors Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Salli Richardson, Willow Smith, Dash Mihok, Emma Thompson
Â© 2007 by Digital Dogs
--- Digital Dogs is gather's Los Angeles Movie Correspondent ---
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