Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"I Am Legend" underperforms

My freelance review:
The new film I Am Legend has a great premise: Will Smith as a brilliant scientist who manages to survive a terrible virus that has wiped out most everyone else in New York City -- and perhaps the entire planet.

Couple this premise with some outstanding special effects -- including a deserted, dilapidated New York City, where tall grass and weeds now grow in the streets and where herds of deer run wild -- and there's the potential for an outstanding Twilight Zone-esque thriller.

Unfortunately, the interesting premise and outstanding special effects aren't accompanied by a well-articulated, well-directed or well-edited story -- and as a result, Legend falls flat.

There are gaps in the details of the story. While flashbacks tell the story of how the virus took hold and started a mass panic, there are way too many unanswered questions that should have been addressed. Exactly why is Smith's character, Robert Neville, immune to the virus? How does Neville know the statistics of how many people worldwide are affected and not affected by the virus?

Parts of the film are engaging and suspenseful, reminiscent of a good episode of The Twilight Zone. And this shouldn't be too much of a surprise, given that the 1954 novel on which the film is based was written by Richard Matheson, who penned a number of Zone episodes.

But other parts of the film yearn for much more. There are a number of scenes involving zombie-type creatures -- the "half-dead" mutant survivors who stalk Neville and his dog. While a few of these scenes are truly scary, most are uneven or over-the-top.

The screenplay writers, Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldman (who worked together on the generally-panned Poseidon movie of 2006), left a lot of detail out when adapting Matheson's story. Director Francis Lawrence's experience is mostly in music videos.

I Am Legend, which opened last Friday, was reportedly in post-production until the last minute, into November. Not a good sign -- and it shows. Parts of the film seem pieced together -- particularly in the second half.

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