Saturday, December 29, 2007

First Impressions – I am Legend


Regular readers will know that I had some trepidation about this film. I am a fan of the novel , I was worried that Will Smith wouldn’t have the gravitas to pull the film off and there was the question of whether there were even going to be vampires in the film. Then there were the reviews, the really negative reviews… but you know what, I really quite enjoyed this… to a point.

Firstly, Will Smith… Well he was excellent, any trepidation I might have had fell by the wayside. He really does the role justice and carries the movie with ease. Unlike Vincent Price in Last Man on Earth, Smith can pull off the action sequences with consummate ease, but he also does the last man on the edge rather well.

Next, are they vampires? Quite frankly yes. The infected might have something in common with the running infected of 28 Days Later but they are known as darkseekers because they avoid the light as it burns and kills. Very vampire like, I am sure you will agree. Okay, being infected rather than dead (the two types from the book have gone and the virus either kills dead or causes the changes) they can be killed in more mundane ways and we have lost the garlic and mirror lore from the book. However these are no longer human. Humans cannot climb in that fluid, vampire like way. They seem to attack, in a clear shot we got, by going for the neck, but it was less the classic vampire and more the lion taking down the gazelle (an obvious simile as we see such lion on gazelle action early on). They are not mindless either, as Neville finds to his cost, having assumed that their brains had fully atrophied.

There have been some very negative reviews out there. Some of them do smack of not watching the film properly. Comments regarding why the power would be working ignore the large generators that Neville has installed. Questioning how he might have a lab, ignores the fact that he was working there – at ground zero – trying to locate a cure and thus probably had the lab anyway. Comments as to why he would shoot at a mannequin in the street have failed to notice just how much Neville has lost his mind. Nay-sayers who scoff at the man looking for a cure going out and hunting these things loose sight of the fact that he has lost his only companion and thus completely lost his mind. As for the complaints that the vampires are CGI – they worked, really well, in my opinion at least. Indeed the lead vampire, despite being CGI and despite there being no language, actually had more personality than the vampires in 30 Days of Night. I don’t know anyone who complained about the way Gollum was created for Lord of the Rings – similar sort of thing here.

As for not following the book. Let’s face it; the vampire genre is littered with films of classic novels that do not follow the book. So long as the film captures the spirit of the book it doesn’t overly matter. The film – to a point – did capture the spirit of the book. The very fact that he had his dog from the beginning did not change the dynamics of the situation in the end, for instance. Yes we loose the wife coming back – but the film doesn’t have the dead returning so that was out anyway. It is an iconic scene lost but I can live with it.

Where the film lost it, to my mind, was when Anna (Alice Braga) showed up. The film lost the essence of the book – that Neville was, in reality, an anti-hero. The film makes Neville a legend, but not for the reasons the book made Neville a legend. The core point that Matheson offered has been lost. That, however, was not the worst part. Messages from God about survivors in Vermont (God tells me they are there) was a step so far in the wrong direction it fell of the end of the pier. It isn’t just that this does not follow the book. I would still have balked against it had it been an original piece. It was corny, messianic and showed the ridiculous need that Hollywood has to put a little ray of sunshine at the end of every blooming film.

The ending – people – sucks. But the majority of the film works and works well. Smith does us proud and the dog is excellent.

A full review will be written when the DVD is released.


Derek said...

I finally saw this movie today. It had problems in its final act, but the first hour or so was very good. I do wish they had retained more elements from the novel, but I knew that didn't going in. I was very impressed by Smith, who I now think of as a very good actor in addition to being a charismatic "movie star."

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Derek, hope you've had a good Christmas.

It seems we agree, and he shame with the last act was the assault was well done so its not as though you can watch the movie to a point either...

Mike said...

Your sentiments pretty much reflect my own, Taliesin. I had expectations that the ending and the core of the novel would become Hollwoodized here, and I know that I'm not alone on that. And expecting that, I knew I'd be seeing it regardless since i'm a big fan of the novel.

I'm one of those that would like to see a faithful adaptation... but ok, even if an adaptation won't be page-by-page accurate, that's ok so long as the foundation is left intact, and that's where Will's Legend fell through for me. There was no sense of Neville as the "reverse-Dracula" figure playing both boogeyman and the unwelcome, living reminder of the world's former civilization. But I agree that Will himself did well, and proper due was paid to Neville's mind-state. Not to mention that the desolate scenery was fantastic, among other pluses. I was still excited to see it even if I knew I wasn't going to be seeing the novel.

One final thought: the ten-year old script by Mark Protosevich, originally meant for the planned but failed Ridley Scott/Arnold Schwarzenegger version, was heavily rewritten before it made it to the screen with Will Smith. A handful of story elements remain (including Protosevich's writing credit), though if the Will version wrapped up according to original draft, then I Am Legend would have offered plenty to complain about (fluff and cliches galore, that insult both fans of the novel and thinking people in general). I'm thankful that this didn't happen, for if that were the case, why even bother adapting the novel to begin with?

Either way, the Will film was overall enjoyable as it's own entity. In turn, at least the novel remains different enough from any of it's unique strains of film adaptations to lure newfound fans into picking up and enjoying the original story as a new experience.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers for that Mike, like yourself I would like to see a full adaptation but - somehow - feel we probably won't.

I noticed today that the Matheson novel was in the top 10 with a Will Smith cover - so it is bringing new readers to the book

Blackmambo said...

Enjoyed reading your review.

Just to add my two cents worth....
I am Legend (with Will Smith) is the third adaptation of the book. The second version was "The Omega Man", made in 1971, with Charlton Heston (as Neville).

I haven't as yet seen the film but I'm told it's quite enjoyable but still not 100% true to the book....

Other movies based on Richard Matheson's books can be found in the imdb website (link below):

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Black Mambo.

The reason I didn't mention Omega Man is because I look at these things from a vampire genre perspective and in Omega Man they were mutants rather than vampires. However I did mention it in the novel write up.

That said Matheson's novel certainly inspired more non-vampire material than vampire. Night of the Living Dead was inspired by the book - which in itself defined the zombie genre.

Glad you enjoyed the write up. All the best