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Warning! This review contains some plot spoilers!
I see a lot of movies. It's my job, it's what I do. And as much as I love just going to the movies, there is a real feeling of joy on those few occasions when a movie turns out to be great. Until that moment, I forget the difference between good and great. And it's a big difference. I was at the movies tonight to see the new smash hit movie, I am Legend, and I am happy to report that the $75 million it made at the box office last weekend was no fluke. I Am Legend is pretty great. This movie has two great characters, Will Smith as, maybe, the last man on Earth, and New York City turned into a beautiful ghost town. For about half the movie, this story is all about Will Smith, his trusty dog, Sam, and Manhattan all gone to seed, with deer running down the deserted streets (See below).
The reason that Will Smith is alone in New York, is revealed slowly in a series of brief flashbacks. His character was a military doctor fighting a genetically engineered virus that mutated into something worse than Ebola. The flashbacks are spare and chilling. A brief clip of the Today Show is shown of the doctor (an almost unrecognizable Emma Thompson) who invented the virus, self-satisfyingly admitting that she has cured cancer. Another flashback shows Will Smith picking up his wife (Salli Richardson) and young daughter (Willow Smith (Will Smith's real-life daughter)). His wife asks, "Has it jumped? Is it airborne?" That's all we need to know. Below, he is trying to get them out of New York before it is quarantined. Soon ,though, he is apparently alone, immune himself to the disease.
You should stop reading now if you don't want to know more but I am only going to mention stuff that is in the trailer. Smith is not exactly home alone in the Big Apple. There are zombies. Why it is that killer viruses in movies always turn people into Zombie Cannibals, I don't know, but I think that George Romero is to blame. Anyway, I think that I Am Legend is a much better zombie movie than say 28 Days Later. There's more to the plot of I Am Legend, quite a bit more, but I won't spoil it for you.
I Am Legend is adapted from the novel written in 1954 by Richard Matheson. I Am Legend is the third film adaptation of the book, after The Last Man on Earth (1964), starring Vincent Price, and The Omega Man (1971) starring Charlton Heston. Matheson, who is 81 now, is a prolific writer, including 16 episodes of The Twilight Zone and a Star Trek episode (The Enemy Within). Several other books by Matheson have been filmed including, What Dreams May Come, Somewhere in Time, The Legend of Hell House, Stir of Echoes, and The Incredible Shrinking Man. The new movie version of I Am Legend is directed by yet another music video director, Francis Lawrence who has only one feature under his belt (Constantine). But I guess music videos are good training because I Am Legend is a very well put together movie. There isn't a lot of waste. In an era of 2 1/2 hour movies, I Am Legend is only 1 hour and 40 minutes long. The story moves right along with the tension building in every scene. I haven't read the book but the plot of the movie makes as much sense as a zombie movie can.
Finally, I mentioned above that New York City really is the co-star of I Am Legend. And it's true. The Art Direction of this movie should win an Oscar for sure. They did an amazing job of making New York look absolutely realistic, but also look as if it has been abandoned for years. One nice touch is that the city was abandoned at Christmas time so there are shabby decorations everywhere. As Smith wanders the streets, the city feels foreboding and the walls seem to be closing in on him. This may be Will Smith's best film ever, and he's got a few good ones already. He definitely likes SciFi, and SciFi likes him, e.g., Men in Black, Independence Day, and I, Robot. There isn't much of a supporting cast in I Am legend except in flashbacks. Will Smith has to carry this movie alone much as Tom Hanks had to in Cast Away. But his dog, Sam, is as good a sidekick as many a human actor that I have seen. I Am Legend should be nominated for more than just Art Direction come Oscar time. It will be on my Top Ten list for 2007.