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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: I Am Legend

July 17, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
I Am Legend Will Smith

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #563: I Am Legend

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that is about to do a movie review that’s, no shit, three years in the making, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number five hundred and sixty-three, I take a look at the big budget post-apocalyptic sci fi action flick I Am Legend, which hit North American movie screens in mid-December 2007.

I Am Legend

IAmLegendPoster

I Am Legend, directed by Francis Lawrence, is the third major cinematic adaptation of the classic Richard Matheson horror novel I Am Legend and the only one to use the novel’s title for the movie. In some respects, I Am Legend is a solid, generally well made post-apocalyptic sci-fi action flick. It uses its considerable resources to show a realistic looking deserted New York City and features an excellent lead performance by star Will Smith. However, the decision to have fully CGI plague victims/zombies/whatever you want to call them) really hurts the movie.

So Smith stars as Robert Neville, an Army lieutenant colonel and world renowned virologist who is one of the few humans left alive (maybe the only human left alive) after a viral outbreak essentially destroyed the world. The virus, a man-made virus known as the Krippin Virus (scientists took the measles virus and re-engineered it, hoping to cure cancer somehow), killed billions of people and, in the process of the world basically ending, turned millions of people into fast moving plague zombie creatures called Darkseekers. Darkseekers are vulnerable to sunlight and tend to operate solely at night/in the dark. Neville spends his days in New York City driving around, scrounging for supplies, hunting deer, making radio broadcasts in the hope that there are other human survivors out there, hanging out with his dog Sam, and just trying in general to get through each new day while dealing with crushing loneliness. Neville also continues to look for a potential cure for the Krippin Virus, capturing Darkseekers and performing experiments on them using vaccines he creates with his own blood since he’s immune to the virus. When it starts to get dark out, Neville basically armors up his house, putting metal shutters up and locking all of his doors. Neville then tries to get some sleep, although it’s difficult to do that. Aside from the prospect of the Darkseekers finding him and killing him (they don’t know where he lives), Neville also has recurring nightmares about the night his wife and daughter Zoe and Marley Neville, as played by Salli Richardson and Willow Smith, died in a tragic helicopter accident.

So life is not ideal for Neville, but he manages. He tries to keep to a daily routine and continues to look for a cure, hoping that it will all work out in the end. But how long can Neville hold on for?

Roughly the first hour of I Am Legend is Neville navigating the world alone and, again, outside of the terrible looking zombie creatures, it’s generally well done and fascinating. Will Smith has a natural charisma that just jumps off the screen and, as he’s basically the only human being we see for the first hour besides the brief nightmare flashbacks, that fact helps make I Am Legend watchable. You totally buy him as a guy who can survive in a terrible situation and as a scientist looking for a cure for a deadly disease. Smith also manages to straddle the line between playing a guy who is just rolling with the punches and trying to exist as best he can in a world gone to hell and a guy who is mere seconds away from completely falling apart and succumbing to the terrible world he finds himself in. Neville feels tremendous guilt not only about his wife and daughter dying, but also about how he couldn’t find a cure for the virus. In a sense, it’s almost like Neville feels he’s directly responsible for destroying the world. And yet, despite straddling that line, Neville still has a bit of hope in him. It seems impossible that he does, but he does.

One of the most terrifying scenes in the movie is when Neville runs into a building, chasing after his dog Sam who went into the building himself chasing after a deer. Neville has no idea if there are Darkseekers in the building, and he’s terrified that the creatures have killed Sam. The sequence doesn’t end very well because we see the Darkseekers in all their CGI terribleness, but the run up to that big reveal is top notch stuff. I will say that there is one good scene featuring the Darkseekers, where we see them huddled together in the dark and you can barely make them out. It almost looks like they may be performers in bodysuit make up. Why couldn’t the movie have done more of that kind of thing?

So after the first hour, where we see Neville break aspects of his routine, get injured, and lose Sam in one of the saddest sequences in recent memory, Neville finally meets another survivor, a woman named Anna (Alice Braga). Anna has a young boy with her (Ethan, as played by Charlie Tahan), and it would seem that this encounter is exactly what Neville has wanted since the start of his being all alone in New York City. It isn’t, though. It’s a confusing time for him.

I was surprised by how little time Neville spends with Anna and Ethan. Outside of his big argument with Anna over the prospects of a survivor’s colony in Vermont and speech about how everyone is dead/there is no God and the breakfast sequence (Neville should have eaten those eggs and bacon. I bet they smelled good), they barely interact with eachother. That seems like a mistake. Smith and Braga have undeniable chemistry together, and why wouldn’t you want more of that in your movie? The movie also should have done more with Neville developing a bond with Ethan. We see a little of that in the movie, but not enough. I think I would have rather seen more of that kind of thing as opposed to more action with those awful looking CGI creatures.

God, I can’t express enough just how bad the CGI Darkseekers are. Outside of that one small scene in the dark room, they’re never scary. More often than not they’re just a bunch of lame video game enemies. I read on the movie’s Wikipedia page that director Lawrence originally had actors portray the Darkseekers but switched to full CGI because the actors just weren’t convincing. The actors also couldn’t do any of the insane jumping around and whatnot the Darkseekers do in the movie because no human being could do shit like that. Why didn’t Lawrence sort of split the difference and do a mix of practical and CGI effects for the monsters? The full CGI creations all look horrendous and when we see them fully on screen the movie actually drops down a few notches in the quality department.

I mean, would a mutated virus really turn people into things like the Darkseekers? I know that seems ludicrous to ask since I Am Legend is just a movie and anything can happen in a movie, but I have a hard time believing that anything could transform people into the Darkseekers.

The movie also could have used like a three minute explanation of what the hell happened and what the Darkseekers are, etc. The flashbacks to when Neville’s family died are well done and show us the absolute panic the world was in when the virus got out of control, so why not have a flashback in a lab or something where Neville (or the character Emma Thompson plays in an uncredited cameo at the very beginning of the movie) explains everything? How did they come up with the term “Darkseeker?” I know that there was talk about doing a prequel to this movie to show us all of that stuff, but, shit, why do an entire movie about that? Just do it in three minutes.

As I said earlier, Smith does a great job basically acting by himself for a majority of the movie. His scenes where he talks with mannequins Neville has placed around the city to interact with are great stuff, especially when Neville goes to the video store. The movie could have used more of that kind of thing, too. Smith also does a great job with the action bits he has to do. I just wish he had a better enemy to battle. I bet Smith could have done great things with the “Alpha Darkseeker” that we see at the end of the movie. A true missed opportunity.

And Alice Braga does a fine job in her limited part as Anna. I wouldn’t mind seeing a movie where a majority of the movie is Anna’s life dealing with the end of the world. Who is she? How did she figure out she was immune to the virus? I think that would make for a fascinating movie. It will never happen since Braga, while a terrific actor, isn’t Will Smith, but I think it’s a story worth telling. Maybe that can be a TV show? Braga can clearly carry one of those (she stars in that USA show Queen of the South, so why not? TV shows based on movies is a thing now. I’d probably watch a sequel TV show to I Am Legend.

Now, there are two endings to I Am Legend; and the alternate ending seems to be the favorite among the reviews and whatnot I’ve seen on the internets. I’ve seen both and I don’t think either one is all that great. The alternate ending certainly would have made it easier to make a sequel and it fits a little better with the movie title and the ultimate point of the book, but I didn’t care for it. And the theatrical ending would have worked better if Neville and Anna had spent a little more time together and actually formed a bond. Neville’s final act would have been more believable (yes, I know, we’re supposed to buy into all of the butterfly symbolism and accept that that’s what motivates Neville to do what he does, but, at least right now, I’m not willing to make that leap).

I Am Legend is a pretty good post-apocalyptic sci-fi action movie. It could have been better if different choices had been made, but, as it stands, it’s not terrible. It’s reasonably entertaining. It’s a movie that shows what a real deal movie star can do. It’s also a movie that shows how CGI, when overused, can seriously hinder a movie. Still, I Am Legend is worth seeing at least once in your life.

See I Am Legend. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: Billions.

Undead bodies: Hundreds. Probably. It’s hard to get an accurate count.

Explosions: Several, big and small.

Nudity?: None.

Doobage: A radio show, a TV show with Emma Thompson, 2009, 20012, a deserted New York City, a sweet looking Ford Mustang, birds, a pack of scurrying deer, attempted deer hunting, a street filled with abandoned cars, multiple lions, a watch alarm, liquid dumping, DVD watching, food preparation, a dog bath, more watch alarm stuff, a total home lockdown, bathtub sleeping, multiple flashbacks, a presidential address on the radio, arguing, monster attack, an early morning workout, a room full of zombie rats, a supply run, multiple mannequins, a video store, a corn field, gas pumping, more attempted deer hunting, a very dark and dangerous room, a nest of zombies, a man and a dog making a run for it, zombie capturing, a UV light test, attempted vaccine, total panic, an eye test, fishing, a misplaced mannequin, mannequin shooting, a leg trap, attempted wire cutting, accidental leg stabbing, multiple monster dogs, a dog fight, dog hugging, off screen strangulation, a sad grave, an emotional breakdown, vehicular assault, total truck destruction, a super bright light, exploding bridges, off screen helicopter accident, attempted breakfast, attempted TV watching, attempted philosophical discussion, multiple explosions, a full on house attack, screwdriver to the leg, propane tank shooting, multiple hordes of zombies, butterfly bullshit, grenade attack, and an oddly hopeful ending.

Kim Richards?: Off screen.

Gratuitous: Emma Thompson, 2009, 2012, a deserted New York City, Will Smith, Will Smith driving a sweet red Ford Mustang, Will Smith driving a sweet red Ford Mustang in a deserted New York City, multiple “God still loves us” posters, Will Smith trying to hunt deer from his sweet red Ford Mustang, Will Smith hanging out with a dog, a Time magazine cover with Will Smith, Will Smith eating, Will Smith giving his dog a bath, Will Smith sleeping in a bathtub, Will Smith and his dog exercising on their treadmills, experimentation, a Goodfellas DVD, Will Smith going to the video store, Will Smith interacting with a mannequin named Fred, Will Smith hitting golf balls off the wing of a jet, bad looking zombie mutant monsters, CGI, a family prayer, fetch, Will Smith fishing, Will Smith having to kill his dog, Will Smith committing vehicular assault, Shrek on the TV, eggs and bacon for breakfast, Will Smith knowing all of the lines to Shrek, Alice Braga, a lack of knowledge about Bob Marley, Will Smith singing ‘I Shot the Sheriff,” Will Smith talking about Bob Marley, a bunch of bullshit about butterflies, Vermont, and Bob Marley.

Best lines: “Let’s go, Sam,” “There, just the way you like it. Disgusting,” “But I don’t want to go to Aunt Sarah’s!,” “It’s Christmas. What about my presents?,” “I can still fix this,” “Hang in there, number six,” “Keep your eye on this one for me,” “Sam, we gotta go!,” “Look, if I’m not back by dark… just go,” “Daddy’s going to make the monsters go away,” “What the hell you doing out here, Fred?,” “Everybody’s dead! Everybody is dead,” “I was saving that bacon. I was saving it,” “I like Shrek,” “I can still fix this,” “God didn’t do this. We did,” “There is no God. There is no God,” and “I think this is why you’re here.”

Rating: 7.0/10.0

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Just in case you missed them, check out my reviews of the other two movies based on Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend:

ChuckHestonOmegaMan

The Omega Man

TheLastManonEarthTorchPrice

The Last Man on Earth

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Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits: This is the highly anticipated big hooha Bruce Lee movie boxed set from the fine folks at the Criterion Collection. Chock full of the usual great special features and whatnot the Criterion Collection is known for, this has to be, in many ways, considered to be the definitive Bruce Lee movie set. The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, The Way of the Dragon, Enter the Dragon, and Game of Death are all in this set. And I believe that is the only way you can get these five movies through Criterion, as part of the set. I’ll admit that the boxed set is kind of expensive, but at the same time the set is very likely worth the price. Criterion always does a great job with its releases. So how many of you want this boxed set?

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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

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I Am Legend

Will Smith– Robert Neville
Alice Braga– Anna
Charlie Tahan– Ethan
Salli Richardson– Zoe Neville
Willow Smith– Marley Neville

(check out the rest of the cast here)

Directed by Francis Lawrence
Screenplay by Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson and a 1971 screenplay by John William Corrington and Joyce Corrington

Distributed by Warner Bros and Warner Home Video

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Runtime– 101 minutes

Buy it here