>> I Am Legend (John’s Review, 6/10)

>> I Am Legend (John’s Review, 6/10)“Familiarity breeds contempt,” goes the old saying, and the makers of I Am Legend seem dedicated to reinforcing that idea.  Not only has Richard Matheson’s survival novella been brought to the screen twice before this (Last Man on Earth and The Omega Man), but it’s also influenced a varied handful of knock-offs from Night of the Comet to 28 Days Later.

This time it’s mega-star Will Smith in the central role, the sole survivor (or is he?) of a virus that’s wiped out most of the population, and left the rest as bloodthirsty “night seekers” (a name that actually pains me a little to type).   In the film, Smith’s Neville splits his time between hunting for food and hunting for a cure, but always heads home at night to avoid the vampiric urges of the night seekers.  The film differs greatly from the novella, as did its film predecessors, but instead of finding a new take on the material, like those other films did, Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman’s script cobbles together ideas from those existing films, instead of going straight to the source material to find some inspiration.  I don’t mind a film being different from a book, but I do mind when a film isn’t different from other, better films.

The rubbery, awkward 100% CG night seekers don’t help either.  They’re introduced in a very cool way, then quickly reduced over the film’s short running time into a threat akin to those slack-jawed, howling mummies that we’ve seen Brendan Fraser fight.  Smith is game to carry the film, in the way that A-list leading men can do with zero effort, but Smith, as an actor, lacks dark places inside, and this is a role that needs those dark places.  Neville comes across as angry when he should be haunted; frustrated when he should be fearful.  Add this to a pretty disappointing and pedestrian anticlimax, and you have a bunch of coal lumps wrapped up in a very shiny, expensive package for the Christmas movie season.

I Am Legend is mediocre entertainment–not a bad diversion on a rainy afternoon, but it’s rather toothless for a film about a vampire apocalypse.  Hopefully, in another 20 years, we can get one more adaptation–one actually that captures the loneliness and suspense of the book, forges some of its own ideas, and isn’t afraid to call the vampires vampires.

 6 on a 1 to 10 scale


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