Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: December 14, 2007
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Genre: Drama / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Will Smith plays a man left alone in a post-apocalyptic New York with only his dog to keep him company. By day, he is surviving, tracking and searching, desperate for companionship and a cure for the people who have since become ravenous monsters. By night, he sits in terror of the horde outside. “I Am Legend” is a heart-wrenching and spooky tale of what it is like for a single man to live in a city that is no longer inhabited by humanity.
Will Smith’s character displays a great deal of human emotions over the course of the story. Quieter moments tell of his ability to cope with the situation he is forced into, and his connection with his dog shows how that relationship has carried him. Some of the tone of the book “I Am Legend” is lost due to the fixed perspective. The titular phrase makes no sensible mention in the movie’s story. The book used the phrase to describe the character Smith portrays. The protagonist’s struggle remains intact, if only shifted in tone.
Much of the tone of the movie is seen in the contrast between day and night. Dr. Robert Neville, the protagonist, is shown hunting and tracking with the help of his animal companion, giving the audience a taste of a positive note. The darker tone is always just underneath this sunny exterior, hiding in the shadows and waiting for Robert to slip up. Early on, he chases his dog into a dark building interior and comes upon the movie’s men-turned-monsters, creating a moment of tension and terror.
As the story progresses, the efforts that Neville has gone to become more evident. Before the film begins, he uses his abundant time alone to craft a fortress and creates a signal to attract more survivors. Sadly, he spends every day waiting for people who never arrive. Neville created a lab, where he uses his immunity to try to craft a cure for the afflicted people he hides from every night. He captures one of the infected, performing an experiment on her, even though his lab is a saddening display of failure after failure. Desperation runs deep in these moments and shows in his struggles.
Hints of intelligence appear in the creatures that would otherwise be seen as inhuman. Neville runs into consequences when the potential lover of the infected he captured stages an ambush just as the sun begins to set. This is the only evidence of the intelligence that is more readily visible in the book. There is not much more, thus the film is lacking perspective on the process that led to this abrupt event. Audiences are meant to sympathize with Robert Neville, but there is very little visual explanation for the intelligence of the attack on him and his dog. When Neville’s dog is bitten and infected, resulting in the darkest point in the movie, Neville is forced to make a tough decision.
Hope reappears when two survivors show up to meet with him and then Neville’s attempts at a cure seem to start working. Unfortunately, the unique lesson of the book gets completely lost at this point of the movie, where it becomes more about survivors in a post-apocalypse world struggling to survive against a legion of monsters and less about the nature of Neville’s actions seen through the eyes of the monsters themselves. As Neville tries to administer his cure, he must fight to stay one step ahead of the monsters that are close behind.
Dark tones are seen throughout the movie, tragedy abounds and it is easy to sympathize with Smith’s character. Moments in the movie are quiet, or not so quiet, but need no dialogue to get the feelings across. Tragedy tugs at the audience’s heartstrings, followed closely by loneliness, sorrow and desperation. Events in the movie diverge from the book it is based off of significantly in terms of perspective and tone, creating a far different effect. This is a movie about a single man’s struggle to find answers and companionship when the world has ended around him. It misses a major point of the original novel, that Neville was eventually seen as a singular monster by the changed men and women who told their children about him to scare them. Lacking that perspective may have lowered the quality of the story as a whole, as remnants of the original lesson are seen but not emphasized enough to matter. This is an entertaining movie with a sympathetic main character, but lacking in the philosophy of its origin.
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