I can remember when I was in the third grade, and while looking throughout the library I saw a title that begged to be read. “I Am Legend” sat faithfully in my hands for the next few days, and changed the way I viewed books and society as a whole. The pages turned at a furious pace during the most exciting parts of the book, and slowed to a somber pace during the most solitary parts. The newest adaptation of my favorite book could have gone one way or another. I am very happy to say that I Am Legend made me feel as every bit of excitement, fear, nervousness, sadness and as alone as the novel did.
Robert Neville (Will Smith) is a brilliant scientist that is being tested after a virus has destroyed everyone in the human race — except for him. Trying to deliver on a promise that he made to his daughter, he has devoted his life and solitude to transferring his immunity onto the vicious beings with whom he shares the Earth. As the film explains, the virus killed ninety percent of the entire human race, and the other ten percent were transformed into mere shells of people. These “creatures” stalk in the darkness, devouring any remaining human life form. Robert Neville is their final target.
This film has already been attempted several times, as many of you already know. The first (The Last Man on Earth) attempt ended with author Richard Matheson asking to have his name removed from the credits. The second attempt was backed by Charlton Heston, but still found the same fate and had the title changed to The Omega Man. The story of Robert Neville has been one of those ominous projects that never seem to fully take off in Hollywood. Much like Watchmen, this story has been considered the holy grail of films by its fans. The property has changed hands and stars a few times, but has never been fully realized by a studio. Until now.
I have to admit, I wasn’t exactly excited when I heard that Will Smith would be playing Neville. I was unconvinced that Smith could bring enough presence to the screen for the role of the last man on earth. I will be the first to admit that I was wrong. A warning to those expecting The Fresh Prince, Hitch or Mike Low-rey… you will see a side of Will Smith that you might not expect. Smith channels the same acting prowess that we saw in films like Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness. His performance, in short, is flawless. You can see a man who is desperate, lonely and that has lost his entire grip on reality. Mixing action with emotion, this could be one of the brightest moments of Will Smith’s already impressive career.
The film’s pace is slow, but managed well by flashbacks that keep the audience tense with anticipation. Director Francis Lawrence should be proud of the film, a worthy adaptation of the novel and a film that has what it takes to succeed in theaters. The film’s only pitfall is its ending. Fans of the novel seem to cling to Matheson’s original ending, which is seemingly insuperable. However, Matheson’s ending is not one that transfers well to a big Hollywood blockbuster. Lawrence’s ending will suffice for the audiences of America, but it leaves fans of the great Richard Matheson with something to be desired.
The Upside: Mixing action with emotion, this is the highlite of Will Smith’s career.
The Downside: Lawrence’s ending was good, but still left something to be wanted from fans of Matheson’s work.
On the Side: Warner Bros. Pictures has owned the rights to the book since the 1970s. The studio first attempted adapting it in 1994 with director Ridley Scott, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, which fell through when the production went over-budget. And then in 2002, Michael Bay was set to direct Will Smith, but they decided to make Bad Boys II (2003) instead.
||Release Date: December 14, 2007
Running Time: 101 minutes
Cast: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Dash Mihok
Director: Francis Lawrence
Screenplay: Mark Protosevich (screenplay), Akiva Goldsman (screenplay), Richard Matheson (novel), John William Corrington (1971 screenplay), Joyce Corrington (1971 screenplay)
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
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