We caught the latest Will Smith movie I Am Legend last night, and it sparked a lot of conversation between Eileen and I over dinner about the merits and disappointments of the film.
If you didn’t know, this film is the third on-screen rendition of the original book I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (in reprint now, due to the film). The first time around in 1964 it was titled The Last Man on Earth and starred Vincent Price. I’ve never seen this film and wasn’t even aware of it until I read about it on IMDB. The second film The Omega Man is a bit more modern, made in 1971, and stars Charlton Heston as Robert Neville. I haven’t seen this film in years but recall watching it with my father when I was young. It wasn’t really scary when watching on television on a Saturday afternoon, but it definitely intrigued me.
When I first saw the trailer for this latest version, I was immediately struck with the similarities to The Omega Man, and I quickly discovered the history of the book and original film.
After the film we went to the Gerard Lounge at the Sutton Place Hotel across the street. This fabulous little bar has great atmosphere reminiscent of a gentleman’s club in Victorian England: dark, floor to ceiling wood paneling, and a full complement of waiters to bring drinks and food. It was the perfect setting to debate what we liked and disliked about the film.
First, the very best “character” in the film is the very lonely, very wild, very overgrown New York City. It was better than any of the human or animal actors by far. Don’t get me wrong, Will Smith did a tremendous job portraying a driven, lonely, slightly mad Robert Neville but even he couldn’t compete with the sweeping and often disturbing views of NYC.
Second, I’d say that the the film was too disjointed. There was very clearly an over-arching story of how Neville is trying to “fix” the problem of the killer virus but why he was so involved from the beginning wasn’t really explained very well. It was clear why he was so driven after the death of his family, and there were vague hints of his early involvement but there seemed to be more emphasis on his military role rather than his role as a virologist. There was also a big gap in the portrayal of the evolution of the “zombie”. There was the great scene where Neville records his behavioral analysis, but missed the opportunity to observe that the Dark Seekers were intelligent and rapidly organizing themselves into a society.
There was also no coherent story for the “head zombie” (credited as Alpha Male, played by Dash Mihok). He really could have been nothing more than a savage beast, but the film would have been improved by giving that character more depth. All the pieces were there: a love interest, motivation to find Neville’s house, ability to learn and adapt, etc.
Third, the film was too predictable. The unfortunate death of Sam was telegraphed very early. The death of Neville’s family was obvious two minutes into the flashbacks of their attempts to exit the city. The attack on the house was entirely expected. The “happy ending” was not surprising nor interesting at all.
Which brings me to my last point: I don’t think the “happy ending” was appropriate. I don’t know how the book ends (I should probably get a copy and read it) but I found it very disappointing. Same for the ending of another post-apocalyptic film Children of Men from 2006. Too happy, and too unbelievable.
This doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy the film. The photography was great and the “world” of Robert Neville was very well done. Will Smith really captured the sense of loneliness and desperation. The long views of NYC were fantastic. Its just that the film could have been so much better than it really was.