I met up with Matt today and hit the cineplex for a early afternoon showing of I Am Legend. When I heard that this was finally seeing the light of day and that it was starring *gulp* Will Smith, I was admittedly very nervous. If there was anything that the movie did not call for it, was Will Smith's brand of wink-wink nudge-nudge humor injected into a very bleak story about the end of humanity. But he was better than Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose name had been attached to the project in the mid-90s, and once I saw the teaser, most of my fears were suitably assuaged. Still, many a movie is made to look good by the trailer, only to stink upon arrival.
I'm glad to say that I Am Legend didn't disappoint. Basic idea: Robert Neville is the last man on Earth after a virus has wiped out 90% of humanity, turning the rest of them into creatures of the night that are not quite vampires, but not quite zombies either. During the day, he has his run of an abandoned, overgrown New York City, but at night, well, Katie bar the door! (Heidi, you knew I just had to work that in.)
To say that it is based on the novella by Richard Matheson is being generous. At the end of the movie, I said that a more appropriate credit would be "loosely inspired by the novella by Richard Matheson." It's not as loosely inspired as, say, the Demi Moore version of The Scarlet Letter is from its source material, but what the film version of I Am Legend mostly has in common with the novella is a character named Robert Neville and creepy vampire like creatures.
That having been said, I also think that this is about the best movie version of this story that we could possibly get. That's not to say that the original story is unfilmable, although I do think it would be hard as there is so much internal dialogue that doesn't translate to the screen all that well. The novella also has an extremely bleak ending - not a typical Hollywood ending by any stretch of the imagination.
But yes, the movie works - on a lot of levels. Oddly enough, the level it works the least well on is a horror flick. Ultimately, I don't think that's the movie is a horror movie in the traditional sense. Plus the CG was pretty bad - the creatures are very obviously fake and kind of Van Helsing in many ways which is a SERIOUS slam against the effects. For me, I found a lot in the quietness of the movie. Perhaps that's why the reviews have been mixed. I think that maybe a lot of people (critics included) went in expecting a movie packed full of action and effects shots and instead, we got a lot of Will Smith walking around being internal and simply trying to stay alive, while attempting to find a cure for the virus. This was more satisfying to me, I think, than scene after scene of the monsters chasing Neville. The scenes with Neville and his family were heart-wrenching - including one scene in which I am sure I audibly gasped and it was followed by a scene of complete silence. Doh!
Complete side note: one of my favorite scenes was one in which Neville was going through an apartment, ostensibly looking for food or medicine or whatever to stockpile. In a blink-and-you-miss it moment, he very briefly picks up a CD, and it is none other than Cher's Believe! I immediately thought of that famous quote about Cher, something like "after the nuclear holocaust, there will be cockroaches and Cher." I couldn't help but wonder if that moment was intentional. Surely it wasn't, but could it be? That was my private moment of laughter in what was otherwise a very somber movie.
So it's worth the money - without a doubt. Now I just have to manage to get to 30 Days of Night which was eviscerated by the critics, but I still want to see! And Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, which is at a whopping 14% on Rotten Tomatoes, fully double what I was expecting for it.