Monday, January 14, 2008

I Am Legend (2007)

I know that everyone saw this last month when the movie made most of its crapload of cash, but I just caught up with it on Sunday.

Basically, it's a good movie, better than I expected from the director of Constantine, except for two major elements: the bland, rubbery CGI monsters and the awkward intrusion of the same deity who so clumsily saved the world from aliens in Signs. The bulk of the movie is a pared-down, gripping creation of a post-human New York City in which the only survivors of a killer virus are Will Smith and his dog. The movie has the good sense to understand that with the right movie star, an audience will be sufficiently gripped to merely watch a character go about their unusual daily routine in extraordinary circumstances, as with Tom Hanks in Cast Away. And like that movie, what's most important in the bulk of I Am Legend is the emotion boiling underneath Will Smith's controlled exterior, the sadness and despair and loneliness. It's good to see a big, expensive Hollywood movie willing to spend most of its time with a single character and his emotions.

Unfortunately, eventually the plot has to kick in and the movie gets pretty dumb as it transitions from character drama to action modes. In Richard Matheson's original story, the bad guys were a society of vampires that Robert Neville stalked every night in a quest to restore the normal order of things. Here they're downgraded to a pack of slavering CGI albinos, who not only aren't very interesting, but they're not scary. Attention Hollywood: CGI, especially bad rubbery CGI, is never scary. Actual actors in makeup can be scary (see: the 28 Days/Weeks Later movies) and considering that so much of this movie is given over to photo-realistic CGI effects of ruined New York, it's a shame that they took the 'safe' route when it came to the monster effects.

Meanwhile, on the God front, I know that some people appreciate big mainstream movies with spiritual messages, but come on, people: the screenwriterly contrivances of this movie are pretty cheap, and I'm not a fan of confusing pattern-recognition for the existence of God. After I watched this movie I rewatched my DVD of 2006's Children of Men, which feels like a much more strongly spiritually complex and rewarding look at how we cope with the end of the world. But that was one of the best movies of that year, so it's okay for I Am Legend to be merely a good blockbuster from last year.

I Am Legend: 7/10
Children of Men: 9/10


cjkennedy said...

I keep hearing this does not suck, but I have yet to hear words that will convince me to see a movie with Akiva Goldsman's name in the credits.

I'm guessing you don't think I'm missing out on all that much...right?

nick plowman said...

Children of Men is fantastic, loved it beyond words!

Jeff McMahon said...

CJ, it depends on what your interest level is in two things: Will Smith, and elaborately realized post-apocalyptic landscapes, because that's what this movie has to offer. I would say that the movie is worth seeing in theaters for the ruined New York streets if nothing else. Maybe at a matinee.

Harvey said...

I liked it too. But I think I was more a fan of the dog than any other part of the film. When the dog wasn't onscreen, I found myself less interested.

Also: Why, exactly, couldn't Smith have thrown the grenade *and* climbed into the safe?

I caught the last 15 minutes of "Children" again recently on HBO. Even cropped, it's still staggering.

HBO boxes its series, but not its movies. Hell, even fX has started boxing its movies....

cjKennedy said...

Will Smith is a non-factor for me. He's neither reason for or reason against. I can get behind some solid post-apocalyptic NY landscapes though.

Perhaps I'll catch it during my next AMC Bargain Matinee Multi Movie Sneak In.

"When the dog wasn't onscreen, I found myself less interested."
You're not going to see this quote next to the former Pete Hammond's on a movie add, but it made me laugh.