Tuesday, 29 January 2008
I Am Legend Review
So, I've been quite late with this one. It's been out since boxing day, yet I only got around to finally seeing it last Saturday. The trailer was scary, intriguing, and ultimately promised a lot. All those shots of a deserted New York, the survival aspect in Smith's daily routine in contrast to the horrific howls and intense bursts of actions in the trailer's latter section...
...so it's fair to say that I had really high hopes. It's definitely fair to say that I very much liked it, without being knocked out by it. But one of this film's qualities is that it gets the balance right. It takes itself quite seriously, but, hell, the end of the world is a pretty serious subject matter. It has a little bit of depth to it, but not so much as to distract itself from the fact that, at it's heart, it's a Will Smith thriller/action/horror mainstream blockbuster. Luckily it knows this, meaning that, tonally, the film hit the nail on the head.
The film opens strongly, a decent hunting sequence setting the scene and introducing us to Dr Robert Neville. The deserted streets provide intrigue [what happened? why?], with intermittant flashbacks giving snippets of information at opportune moments. We see Neville on his daily routine - "buying" DVDs, gathering corn, driving through the streets - and are given a true sense of how lonely this man must feel. The fact that the audience can feel for him after seeing him alone for about 2 days [with the wiping out of humanity happening three years ago] just goes to show how effective I Am Legend is at setting up its premise.
It must be said that Will Smith gives an extremely good performance, pretty much carrying the whole film single handedly. His sane-enough-to-feel-sorry-for, but mad-enough-to-be-a-little-bit-scared-of Doctor is one of the reasons why the film overall works well. His sense of longing and desperation to connect with someone other than his dog is utterly believable, and is a nice chance from his usual fast-talkin' black dude [as seen in 'I, Robot', 'Independance Day' and 'Men in Black' to name but a few]. And that's not to say there isn't humour - a Shrek-quoting scene brought a smile to my face [and a feeling of shame, as I felt myself quoting along with it in my head], and just the fact that he is Will Smith means that there are a couple of lighthearted moments. Given how many sci-fi films Smith has been in, this could have simply been a re-tread of his old performances.
The cinematography is also brilliant, especially for such a mainstream movie. Aerial shots of New York increase the feeling of isolation, and it's nice to see that these sort of movies can also be made quite stylistically.
Which is why it's such a shame about the CGI. Whilst far from being terrible, it wouldn't have hurt to use actors for the night crawlers, and it seems like it was done for the hell of it. Just because CG is available, sometimes it works best when used sparingly. The crawlers themselves are reasonably scary, fleeting glimpses in the first half giving us something to fear and look forward to in the latter stages. Some have criticised the science for the fact that a virus can turn humans into super-human vampire-esque creatures - but, hey, this is in a world where we've cured cancer; and was it ever going to be the most realistic movie ever made? A couple of other niggles that didn't really work were the Bob Marley references [a nice idea, but seemed a bit tagged-on], and the ending feels slightly rushed, and squanders some of the tension built up in the first half by over-using the crawlers.
However, this is still a very entertaining film. It's jumpy, dramatic and exciting. It successfully combines blockbuster movie-making with clever cinematography, and isn't afraid to ask questions, the most prominent of which is: if Smith is the last person truly alive, and is capturing and killing the crawlers in the day, who is the real monster?
Genre Value: 3.5/5
Entertainment Value: 4/5
Overall Rating: 3.5/5