‘I Am Legend’ is far from mythical

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

Wild animals roam the streets. The chatter of semiautomatic weaponry echoes off the skyscrapers. Blood-crazed zombies, wild-eyed and lusting for human flesh, scream bloody murder as they race through Times Square. There’s not a cop in sight.

Just another normal day in New York City, right?

Well, yeah, kinda. At least, that’s the way we hicks picture the Big Town.

But, ya see, what’s missing is the constant screech of car alarms and annoyed people babbling into their cell phones. (Zombies don’t have cell phones. Not in movies, anyway.)

What’s happened is, everyone in Manhattan (except heroic young Dr. Will Smith) has turned into a zombie. And what you’re watching is an expensive (but still cheesy) take on Richard Matheson’s great science-fiction novel, I Am Legend.

I’ve been a Richard Matheson fan ever since I read his first published story back in 1950, and am sincerely disappointed with this film. The story is as full of plot holes as Manhattan is full of potholes, and the original ironic ending – nay, the whole book – has been altered (of course) to keep us all cheerful for its seasonal release.

The plot? Well, in a brief flashback, we learn that Emma Thompson (in a cameo) has invented a cure for cancer. And as soon as everyone is inoculated, we find that it turns people into angry zombies. Big mistake, huh? But Will Smith is, for some reason, immune.

Our hero lives alone in Manhattan, chatting with his German shepherd, shooting some zombies and experimenting on others (looking for a cure, natch). So the setting is absolutely spectacular. Everything else sucks, including the zombies. Why do they all look alike? Why aren’t there any little old lady zombies or small child zombies or zombies in wheelchairs?

I saw it at an IMAX theater, and it’s too big, too loud, poorly executed and edited, and completely unbelievable. It’s a completely different take on the old last-man-on-earth bit.

The only positive thing about it is the production design, which (aided by CGI) shows New York City returning to the wilds, full of wandering deer, predatory lions, weeds growing on 42nd Street, and abandoned cars. It’s as we suspected all along: Don’t mess with Mother Nature.

There have been two other attempts to turn I Am Legend into a movie. “The Last Man on Earth” in 1964 starred Vincent Price, and “The Omega Man” from 1971 featured Charlton Heston. Neither captured the unique plot and irony of the book.

Hollywood, it seems, just can’t stand to adapt anything without stirring the pot and pouring sugar in the lamb stew.

Furthermore, “I Am Legend” is not a film for young children; parts of it are genuinely scary. And it’s not a film for thinking film fans; you’ll end up with too many unanswered questions about the plot. Finally, even though the critics seem to have enjoyed it, it’s not a film for those familiar with the work of Richard Matheson. Big-time disappointment.

As with most films, you’ll probably find more enjoyment in the book. Period.

Meanwhile, Back at the Dixie:

Santa Alert! The old guy makes his last appearance at the Dixie on Dec. 22, before he heads back to the North Pole to control his brother and get ready for his round-the-world flight on Christmas Eve. While you’re waiting for your annual lump of coal, you might want to check out the latest advances in computer-generated movies with “Beowulf.” The technology is pretty spectacular, even if film falls somewhat short of greatness.
  

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.



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