Reviewed by Uncle Creepy
Starring Will Smith, Alice Braga, Dash Mihok
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Distributed by Warner Home Video
Will Smith starring in I Am Legend?!? Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend?!? As soon as the news broke, shock waves coursed through the veins of fans of the book. There was everything from outrage to intrigue regarding this happening. Would Smith “Hell Nawwww” his way through one of the darkest horror tales ever told? Thankfully the answer turned out to be no, thanks in part to director Francis Lawrence, who opted to make a true character study instead of a bombastic Michael Bay blockbuster. As for Smith … I can easily say this was the performance of his career.
For those unacquainted with the storyline, it goes something like this: Dr. Robert Neville (Smith) thinks he’s the last man on Earth. You see, he’s proved to be immune to a deadly virus that has basically killed the planet and turned its remaining human residents into blood-hungry vampire-like creatures. Still, Neville doesn’t give up hope. He couldn’t really be the last one, could he? Every day he drives around a deserted Manhattan island looking for any signs of survivors, while broadcasting on the radio when he can, hoping that someone will get the message. Much to his surprise someone does answer the call. Someone who brings news of possibly more survivors along with them. Can they survive the onslaught of deadly mutants to see if the story checks out? That’s your basic plot, and the first thing you’ll notice about it is that it bears little resemblance to the Matheson classic. Let me be clear … this is not a faithful adaptation, but it turns out to be quite an experience for at least most of the ride.
The first two thirds of I Am Legend is great despite the decision to use CGI creatures who look like they were left over from The Mummy movies instead of actors in prosthetics. Once you’re over the way the creatures look, it’s near impossible to take your eyes off the screen. Will Smith just sucks you right in. The man truly is box office money-in-the-bank, and this movie is a prime example of why. The range he shows as an actor is just incredible. But then it happens … other people join the cast, and the movie nearly crashes into a wall. The third act is barely satisfying in any way. After a powerful opening things start taking a turn for the cliché as soon as the film’s two other main characters are introduced. I left the theatre wondering how something so good nearly went so very wrong.
Luckily for us, if you dole out the extra cash to get the two-disc edition of I Am Legend, you’ll get a second cut of the film with a completely different ending that — while not great — is much more serviceable. In fact, even though it’s a tad upbeat, it made the film feel a bit more complete. Since we’re not sticking to the source material anyway, why not, right? No sin here.
In terms of other bits of bonus material, I have to admit I’m a little confused by this package. Sure we get two cuts of the movie, but beyond that the extras are a bit on the sparse side. Well, sort of. Let me explain.
On Disc One you’ll find two things, the first being four animated comics entitled Death as a Gift, Isolation, Sacrificing the Few for the Many, and Shelter. Clocking in at about twenty minutes combined, these shorts are an absolute home run. Each tells the story of what was happening throughout the world as the virus spread. The best part? A great deal of gore and mayhem is strewn throughout the tales. There should be an entire DVD out of just this stuff. Really cool! Other than the comics, though, all we get is a link to the website for DVD-Rom users to access supplements like a material databank that chronicles the making of the movie, etc. Why these weren’t just included on the disc is nothing short of puzzling. Simply put, if you don’t have DVD-Rom capability, then in terms of extras, you’re pretty much out of luck.
Disc Two houses the alternate cut of the flick along with a special downloadable version of I Am Legend that you can rip to your computers or laptops. That’s it. Kind of weird, no?
In a recent interview on the DVD for the first cinema version of Matheson’s masterpiece, The Last Man on Earth (review here), Richard wondered why studios keep buying the rights to his book yet never bring his story to the screen. We’re right there with ya, man. Maybe one day. In any event — even though this is I Am Legend basically in name only, it’s still a solid film that’s more than worth your time.
3 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5
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