DECEMBER 14, 2007
It’s sort of a lie to say I saw I Am Legend in IMAX, as it was pretty much a fake IMAX. The screen was about the right size, but the theater setup and sound system were identical to any stadium seated theater. The whole point of IMAX is to be engulfed in the film with a curved screen that you are close to and sound that comes at you from all sides. This was not the case. So if you are in the Hooksett, NH area, and are considering going to their IMAX screen for the experience, don’t. Make the extra drive down to Reading, MA.
It was sort of fitting for the film though. It had the right intent, but it was missing key ingredients. Like the book itself and Last Man On Earth, the first half hour or so is the best part. Watching Neville go about his regular routine in a sort of half survival, half fantasy scenario is always the highlight of this particular story. In this version, Neville is in New York, and the scenes of him navigating the empty city are truly effective (though the effect is a bit dulled after Devil’s Advocate and Vanilla Sky did the same thing to a degree). There are some great “future” sight gags in these scenes as well, and the idea of a guy literally watching every movie ever made (in alphabetical order no less) has obvious appeal to me.
But, like always, the 2nd half flounders. Why can’t anyone, even Richard Matheson himself, ever come up with a good way to wrap up this story? Deviating from the book (even moreso than Last Man) is fine, but only if they improve on things, which isn’t the case here. Surprisingly, the film contains far less action than you’d expect from the trailers and pedigree (Michael Bay himself was once attached to this film, and the first scene with Smith is probably leftover from his involvement), though that isn’t really the problem. And considering how awful the CG vampires look, the less of them we see, the better. No, the problem here is that the movie fails to give Neville a real antagonist like his neighbor Cortman in the book. Here, the “big bad” is simply a slightly better rendered CG zombie-vampire thing (“played” by Dash Mihok, who is a recognizable character actor I usually enjoy), and he is given very little to do. There is very little sense that the vampires fear him (making this film’s use of the book’s title, the first adaptation to do so, all the more puzzling), rendering (no pun intended!) them largely inconsequential. Neville’s own crumbling sanity seems a bigger threat than the vampires ever do, with the exception of one (terrific) sequence set in a pitch black building.
They also include some truly idiotic “spiritual” nonsense (spoiler alert!). Early on in the film, during one of the flashbacks (the movie scores a few points by splitting these flashbacks up, Lost-style, but loses a few of those points for focusing pretty much on one night/scene), Neville’s kid randomly says “Look at the butterfly!”. Later, Neville sees a butterfly tattoo on a fellow survivor, and realizes what he has to do to save humanity. So, yes, this film essentially rips off “Swing away, Merrill!” and manages to make it even dumber. Who knows which writer is to blame on this though, since the film has had so many false starts and different creative teams over the past 10 years. This results in what has to be a cinematic first (at least for a film based on a book), as we are given a “Based on a screenplay by” credit in addition to the story/screenplay credits (and, of course, Matheson for his novel). And that’s just the credited writers!!!
So while it was far from a bad film, it was really disheartening to watch as the film went from great to merely OK. Like 30 Days of Night, this has the potential to be one of the years’ best genre films (luckily, the PG-13 rating is of no real consequence in relation to the film’s flaws), but the lazy script prevented such a thing from happening. Still, I was entertained for the most part, thanks in part to the antics of my fellow moviegoers. Going to get a snack, I witnessed a man screaming and yelling about his pretzel, which resulted in a refund, and then the guy went back to his movie... which was Alvin and the Chipmunks. I didn’t think anything would top that, but then I saw a girl buy a soda and Sour Patch Kids, and then throw the soda into the trash without even as much as putting a straw into the lid. What the hell kind of person pays 4 dollars for a cup of colored water and then immediately throws it away?
My enjoyment was also aided by a 6 minute preview of The Dark Knight (aka Batman 2). We watch pretty much a whole scene, detailing a bank robbery orchestrated by the Joker, who is believed to be pulling the strings from an unknown location, and not the 5th robbery member whose face we never see. The scene also includes William Fichtner brandishing a shotgun and generally being awesome. Someone get this guy a starring role!!!
UPDATE – the movie made 80 million over the weekend, beating even Return of the King for a December opening. So who cares what I think?
What say you?