Monday, January 21, 2008

Movie Review: I AM LEGEND

Standing in the backyard of my new place looking over my back wall past the tops of other homes beyond, I can see in the distance the very top of the rear of the nearby mall where I now go two or three times a week to see almost first run movies at it’s third floor quadplex. Ten minutes from the time I back the car out of my gate I’m munching popcorn and looking up at one of the wide silver screens.

Movies, after all, are still the best place to go to forget what troubles you for a couple hours; and even with the miserable performance of the dollar against the peso it costs just $2.20 to see a flick here in Angeles City. Theater popcorn and drinks are even less compared to the US. A large popcorn costs just under a buck and the same for a large drink. So even though the list is smaller than it once was, there are still some things that remain cheaper compared to the good ‘ol US of A where a large buttered popcorn and a drink costs a small fortune in most theater complexes.

Okay, so that’s a warning. Movies are about to be my thing, and indeed, because I practically live on top of the theater, they already are. Ready or not, I’m going to talk about one now. But here’s another warning if you haven’t seen the flick yet, for I will give away the plot; so, at the beginning of each review I will provide a “safe” PP rating (PhilippinesPhil rating), before following it up with a more in-depth review:

I Am Legend

“I Am Legend” is a fun ride. Go see it. I’ve loved the science fiction end-of-the-world genre since I was a kid and that’s what this is. Will Smith must be a fan of science fantasy as well, considering all the movies of that type he’s been in such as “The Men In Black” series, “I Am Robot,” “Independence Day,” and now, “I Am Legend.”

From the moment it started I was into the story. Will Smith has grown into his looks over the years and in this movie he credibly portrays a Lt. Colonel U.S. Army medical doctor in his mid 40s and with him now pushing 40 for real, he easily pulls it off.

To be truly appreciated for the thriller it is, I Am Legend must be seen in a theatre with a good sound system, or at home with the surround sound turned up full blast. The monster mutant humans are THE most convincingly frightening I’ve ever seen and the terrifying noises they make won’t come off nearly as scary on regular TV speakers.

Stop here if you haven’t seen “I Am Legend” yet and plan to.
Lately, I’ve noticed that I tend to see the world in shades of conservative versus progressive. For instance, coming out of Hollywood I’m always surprised when a movie comes out with a premise that seems to back a traditionally conservative viewpoint, such as being careful about genetic tampering. In this film, geneticists in the not too distant future come up with a cure for cancer that involves meddling with human DNA. It all goes haywire and the cure turns into a viral curse. Something like 75% of the world’s population dies outright. A few are completely immune while the rest survive as these horrible daylight-intolerant barely-human mutants. These monsters are mindlessly enraged creatures that seek to feed on the few people not affected by the man-made virus.

Will Smith’s character, Colonel Robert Neville, is the only normal human survivor in all of New York City where he was stationed with the army as a viral research scientist before the whole world genetically imploded. When the movie starts we find him driving a sports car crazily through the overgrown deserted streets of Manhattan while trying to run down and shoot a buck in a herd of deer, all of which are desperately evading his best pursuit efforts. A German Shepherd rides shotgun and accompanies Will everywhere he goes. From the beginning I knew that dog was doomed and I was right.

Through flashbacks we learn how it all went wrong with the virus, as well as how he loses his wife and little girl at the onset of the crisis. The colonel just happens to be in medical research, specializing in virology no less, and also happens to be immune to THE virus. Because of who he is, he gets a heads up call from an army pal that all of NYC is about to be locked down in a desperate attempt to isolate the sickness. It gets crazy and everyone tries to leave at once. Will, Robert Neville, uses his rank and authority to get his wife and girl on a helicopter heading out of town. He tells her he must stay behind and intends to “fix it,” and tearfully kisses them goodbye. As they take off, fighter planes unexpectedly begin destroying the bridges. In the confusion of the explosions he watches horrified as the helo containing his family crashes into another helicopter.

I was struck by Neville’s devotion to duty. Even after losing his family he doesn’t stop trying to accomplish his mission. It’s no wonder to me that the screen writers made him a military man; otherwise, the average non-veteran civilian moviegoer would probably just consider him an obsessed crackpot. In reality, the colonel’s selflessness is exactly how I would expect a “true believer” in uniform to feel and act. Putting mission ahead of family and self is the norm for the U.S. military and this movie exactly depicts how it works for us. It’s what makes us different, superior even.

The genetically damaged human monsters are amazingly scary. To give you an idea on how they operate, Smith’s character refers to a group of them as a hive. Their ugly hairless heads are elongated to make the jaws open wider, and boy oh boy, when they open, all you see are these big sharp gnarly teeth. Unable to tolerate any sunlight they come out only at night. They are all muscled up and naked, their skin a mottled white and gray.

Doctor Neville has figured out an ingenious Rube Goldberg method to capture these monstrosities so he can experiment on them. Once caught, he uses his own immune blood on them and in countless experiments over the years has tried to infuse it into the mutated monsters to effect a cure, but they always die.

Everyday at high noon the good doctor waits at a pier for anyone not mutated to meet him there. He uses a shortwave radio to broadcast that he will be there at the pier daily. Few things in a movie are put in without reason, so I made a mental note.

There is a flaw in the story, and it concerns these mutated humans. These things appear to be madly intent on killing, yet one of these mad-crazy creatures figures out a way to set a trap to ensnare Smith exactly as he has done to them in the past. It just doesn’t seem likely. The viewer is led to believe that this one extra intelligent male mutant is the mate of a female captured earlier by Dr. Neville. This female lies strapped to a table in his lab as he seeks to treat and cure her. Keep this in mind.

Neville is barely able to free himself from the snare set by the mutants and is painfully wounded in the leg during the hours long escape. He gets away just as the last of the sun’s rays are about to wink out. As they do, mutant dogs attack him and that’s when his German Shephard sacrifices herself to save him. He kills all the monster canines, but his brave dog is mangled. Smith gets her back to his lab and hopefully injects her with his best immunity serum, but lying in his lap on the floor she begins to snarl and snap in the manner of the mutant. The camera pans up to Smith’s grim face as he chokes to death with his bare hands his beloved pet, the last vestige of his earlier life.

Neville is heartbroken at her loss. He’s finally giving up on continuing his bleak lonely existence. He goes on a nighttime suicidal rampage in an SUV screaming and yelling as he mows down attacking shrieking mutants by the dozen with his madly careening vehicle. Finally, the “smart mutant” crashes a light pole down into his truck which turns upside down. All appears hopeless as the bald nasty leader mutant makes that eerie shriek just inches from Robert’s face. The creature seems about to bite when a bright light flashes hot and the scene ends in darkness.

It’s the next day. He wakes up in his own bed to find that his leg, wounded two days earlier, is now professionally sutured and bandaged. He hops on it painfully and finds a woman and a boy in his kitchen. It freaks him out. He no longer knows how to act around normal people. She speaks with a French accent telling him that they and two or three others had arrived on a hospital ship, but only she and the boy survived the journey. She tells him she heard his broadcast and had waited at the pier for him. Somehow this one small woman was able to use high powered lights to scare off the mutants long enough to rescue him in the nick of time. Yeah right! No wonder they didn’t show the actual rescue. how could they?

She goes on to expalin that her plan is to take the boy to a safe village that’s rumored to exist someplace in Connecticut. Neville overreacts. He throws his food off the table and yells that there is no village. "Everyone is dead!" he screams at his stunned visitors.
It gets dark, always a forbidding time in this movie. In the distance a mutant shrieks, then another, and then a lot of them, and they appear to be getting closer. Unknowingly, she hadn’t rescued him at all, but had unwittingly led the creatures right to his laboratory and home fortress. Here we go again with the unlikelihood of it all. The mutants don’t seem to display even a trace of intelligence, yet they appear to have purposely let Neville and company escape the night before so as to lead the way back to the captured female mutant? Oh well, I suppose that’s why they call it fiction.

But that’s okay, because then comes a really cool part—Neville knows that once these uni-track minded creatures want inside, they will keep coming till they get in, even though he lives in a veritable fortress. Long prepared for the possibility of being discovered, he tells the woman and boy to take cover before setting off a massive ring of hidden explosives outside his building. Hundreds of the things are destroyed in the awesome Hollywood detonation, but again, not the smart one. How did it know to wait? After the explosion, hundreds more of the monsters arrive and batter their way unstoppably into the building.

Robert, the woman and the boy make a final retreat down into his fortified lab. Even behind huge plates of bullet proof acrylic glass he soon realizes that it won’t long hold up against the crazily attacking mutant leader. The lovesick fiend continually throws itself bodily against the thick supposedly impenetrable glass, especially once spotting his mutant woman lying strapped inside to a table.

Then, Neville notices that the mutant female is no longer looking so mutated. She’s still bald, but her skin and her breathing have normalized. It’s a miracle, she’s cured! Robert tries to yell some reason at the enraged male still crazily battering full-bodied against the thick glass panels, but it’s no use. The acrylic starts to crack. Time is short.

Robert grabs a vial of the serum that had cured the female and hands it to the French chick. He puts her and the kid into a large safe, telling her to take the precious serum to the mythical camp of normal humans that she is so convinced actually exists. Then, saying goodbye, he closes the heavy metal doors on them.

Turning away he grabs a hand grenade stashed in the back of a drawer and waits for the glass to finally give way. As it shatters he charges the furious mutant and the scene ends in another explosion.

The movie ends with the boy and the woman arriving at the gates of the safe compound out in the middle of Connecticut or New Hampshire somewhere. She hands the all important vial over and the movie fades to black with a pull away shot of the village folk coming out to see the new arrivals.

It’s a good story and a well shot film; although when I mentioned in an email to my son in Arkansas that I had seen it and liked it, he agreed that it wa watchable. His only complaint: the ending seems rushed. He’s right. It’s as if the editor realized the film was getting close to the 90 minute mark and said, “Uh oh, we got to wrap this thing up!”

As for me, I definitely got my $2 worth. In fact I would easily pay 10 bucks to see it...


KA said...

just one thing... why did the german shepherd have to die? Wanna see this girl get all emotional? Kill a completely loyal and faithful pup. that'll do it.

Amadeo said...


Sorry but let me be a spoiler, of some sort. This movie, I Am Legend, is based on a book of the same title, which book was made into a movie much earlier, Omega Man. Starring Charlton Heston of Soylent Green fame, and of course, as Moses in the Ten Commandments.

Since I loved Omega Man, I may be predisposed not to watch this newest version. But thanks for the favorable review anyway.

PhilippinesPhil said...

That's the movies Kat. Hollywood loves to kill off the loyal dog ala Old Yeller.

You're right Amadeo; hardly anything new under the sun. When it comes to film stories, or any story for that matter, almost everything is recycled.

KA said...

yeah, but the bimbo that serves no purpose in the story always lives.

Ugh. There is no justice.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Come on now Kat; stay on topic. No bimbos in I Am Legend.

But if you insist, in an "end of the world" scenario a live bimbo has a lot more uses than a live doggy, at least for most of us (guys).

Ed said...

Haven't yet seen the movie but it is on my Netflix que, which by the way, I pay about $1.50 per movie from the comfort of my home.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Like I said Abbey, watch this at home and turn your surround sound up. This is DEFINITELY a theater movie.