I Am Legend
He’s so cool, even the dog wants to get jiggy with it.

Theatrical Release Date: 12/14/2007
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Salli Richardson, Willow Smith, Dash Mihok

OK, let me get this out of the way first:
I have never read “I Am Legend”.
I have never seen “The Omega Man”.
I have never read any of the graphic novels.

Yes, I am indeed an “I Am Legend” virgin. As such, I can not speak for all of the people that complained about the departures from the source material that this film has taken. However, I found the film to be quite effective.

In “I Am Legend”, Will Smith plays Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville MD (my fingers are tired from typing all of those honorifics). To his knowledge, he is the last human left in New York City three years after a viral cure for cancer has gone horribly awry. With only a handful of mannequins and his dog Samantha for company, Neville makes it through life one day at a time; running errands, exercising, and taking care of himself and Sam. Oh, and avoiding the blood-hungry zombies that stalk the night.

As Neville goes along, he tries to find a cure for the zombie state that a large portion of the previous human tenants of New York suffer from. He also tries to find any other survivors by posting messages on the radio airwaves. In the end, of course, the poop hits the fan, and all hell breaks loose.

Let’s start with what they did right. The special effects are perfectly good, and the acting is solid all around. The scenes of an abandoned New York are stunning, and while purists would fuss that all of this takes place too far out in the future, it does provide an interesting look at what might happen to our world after we are done with it.

I also liked the zombies. Everyone seems to view them as a knock-off of the Rage Virus victims in “28 Days Later” (a cinematic zombie gem in my opinion), but I disagree. What I particularly like about these zombies is that they are, for all intensive purposes, alive.

They aren’t rotting or vomiting out their insides; they more closely resemble hardcore speed freaks on PCP with a serious pigment-deficiency condition. While that might seem less exciting to some, I fell that it lends a realism and humanity to these particular monsters, and the hope that their living status brings to Nevillle as he tries to reverse the process makes the whole situation that much more poignant.

Finally, I personally loved the fact that the movie took its time in developing the plot. Some of the footage of Neville in his day to day life was heart-breaking, especially in his interactions with the mannequins and his dog. The back story was provided in flashbacks of the evacuation of his wife and child (Salli Richardson and Willow Smith), which was a fresh way to provide exposition and made the counterpoint of his present situation all the more stark.

Smith did an admirable job of depicting a man on the verge of defeat, an almost mythically tragic hero lost in a world that is done with the human race. Maybe I’m just a sucker, but I was so emotionally done by the time the action ramped up that I had very little energy left to control my own reactions to the scares.

On the minus side, they did veer away from the vampire format of the source material, which I do view as a no-no. The ending was also weak, as I feel that it should have ended about 5 minutes earlier than it did. And perhaps my biggest issue was with the treatment of a storyline involving one of the zombies (Dash Mihok). Without putting in any spoilers, they built up a truly interesting hypothesis about the mental capacity of the creatures, but never really followed through.

All in all, I liked the film, and can give it a very solid 3. If you like zombie films loosely in the same vein as “28 Days Later”, and you aren’t put off by character development in lieu of non-stop action, you’ll probably enjoy it.