Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Give Me Men in Monster Costumes or Give Me Death

I Am Legend (2007)
directed by Francis Lawrence
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

It should go without saying that nothing I’d heard about I Am Legend suggested it could approach a fraction of the entertainment value of watching Charlton Heston’s previous West Coast post-apocalyptic adventures. If you like to read The Bogdanovich Chorus as efficiently as possible, I was right. Will Smith isn’t the kind of actor to want to enjoy himself too much in any situation in which honest citizens have died; if you kill off all of New York, then throw a wife and kid into the mix, even the things he does to stay sane - like hitting on mannequins at the video store - will inevitably segue into anger and outbursts articulating a sense of personal failure. But I'll happily concede that Will Smith can carry a film, and here, Oskar Schindler’s scientist Robert Neville’s eyes reflect the words that no one can hear him say: “I could have done so much more.”

So could the director. In this third (and worst) adaptation of Matheson's novel, the last man on earth can’t just “be alone” from the start of the movie until the end. Instead, the initial viral outbreak begins to play back in dreams as soon as the title screen disappears, down to a mother who begs the soldiers - just before Manhattan is quarantined - to take her baby if they won’t take her. I don’t hate the novelty in seeing the streets of New York completely empty, or in watching the hero hunt a herd of deer through Times Square. I don’t object to the dog as something sweet and dumb that we - the audience - can immediately fix our shallow emotions to. But I want something more from a nightmare scenario than to know that humans are resilient. Life is plenty bleak; to make the most of a story like I Am Legend, one can’t just ask the viewer to imagine living out one’s days alone. Of course it would be sad to leave your wife behind, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little entertainment for our trauma. At least Heston slept with the woman he found!