(2007) dir. Francis Lawrence
viewed: 12/21/07 at AMC Loews Metreon 16 with IMAX
Going to see I Am Legend, this latest, most literal from a title perspective though not from a narrative perspective, adaptation of Richard Matheson’s science fiction/horror novel from the 1950’s was the cap on a little series of films that I’d been seeing leading up to this film’s release. As I’d mentioned before in other posts, I recently read Matheson’s novel, having always liked his work on The Twilight Zone, and having been developing an appreciation for short horror fiction. And I had recently viewed both The Last Man on Earth (1964), the Vincent Price version (still the most true to the novel) and The Omega Man (1971), the Charleton Heston vehicle with its strange contemporary spin on the topic (probably more of an influence here than either the Price film or the novel itself). So, I had to close the circle. I had to see this film. For my own silly reasons.
Will Smith was at one time an actor that I admired. This was coming off Men in Black (1997) when his charm and panache seemed quite appropriate for becoming the leading African American film star. That appreciation started to diminish right after, especially with the tiresome Wild Wild West (1999) that seemed to show what a great waste of energy most Hollywood mega-movies really are. And somehow, by now, I would actually choose actively not to see anything he was in. All that and one’s natural capriciousness, I’d say.
Well, anyways, I went.
The story is relocated from LA to NYC, which one can sort of understand. Taking our country’s most populace city and depopulating it should be impactful. And Hollywood loves to destroy New York. How many of these modern disaster films take place there?
But this is one of the film’s problems. It’s sort of been done before. 28 Days Later… (2002) was sort of the rebirth of these types of films and in many ways is a bit more like the way that they interperated the narrative here than from the original text. It’s all modernized and changed, which one would expect. The vampire/zombies are more like the monsters in Neil Marshall’s The Descent (2005) than the lucid, vocal creatures that Matheson dreampt up.
But it’s not really the lack of originality or the change of story that really bothered me. In fact, some of the action and drama, especially the film’s best sequence when Smith is drawn into a trap by the creatures, is actually quite compelling. The reason that it bothered me was more idealogical than that.
Matheson’s novel is typical of the period, ripe with a serious ironic twist at the end that re-sets the perspective of the entire story. One that is intended to make you think about the story and re-think it through a second lens. In Matheson’s novel, the protagonist Robert Neville finds out in the end that he has been killing both the vampires and some moderately effected people, a group of humanity that evolved through the process of disease, but seeks to redeem itself and make society again. He is crucified for being their nemesis and murderer. His legend, the “I am legend” statement, is that for all time forward he will be more like the devil or Hitler, not a savior, not a survivor, but a killer. Take it for what you will but look to this new film.
In I Am Legend, not only is the irony stripped away, which you could almost understand. Neville, though he perishes, is a hero because he does find a cure. And his legend is betokened at the end of the film, echoing the slightly odd title, letting the audience understand that “he’s a legend”, a hero. Ripping the irony out is pretty demoralizing, but beyond that, the film is also quite anti-science and pro-Christian.
In one sequence, Neville states that “God didn’t do this” (meaning the man-made virus that eventually destroys humanity) but that “we did”. Humans who tamper with genetics are bad. And beyond that, the woman who delivers the andidote when Neville dies is led to both him and a location in Vermont by “God”. Neville does some odd backtracking on his other statement by saying that “There is no God” to her when he strangely rants rather than appreciates and accepts other survivors or proof in opposition to his beliefs that no one else is alive on the planet. But in the end, he acquieses. It must be a God who led them along, who led the people from their own mistakes and allowed them to live again.
It’s weird. Personally, I find it disturbing. Probably there are those who find it both refreshing and/or reaffirming. But I didn’t like it.
As an action/horror film of its genre, it deserves some points, but overall, its rejection of irony for Christian faith and anti-science ideology, I have issues with it.