I Am Legend
There are some issues with the film, and don't go expecting something with tons of action, this is a slow, considered film that does have a few flaws, but all in all it's good news.
It's the future, and a potential cure for cancer is genetically engineered and has been clinically trailed on over a thousand cancer victims, all of whom have been cured. However as the use of the cure is widened it's effects seem to be much more harmful, and before long it has ravaged Manhattan, the USA, and we can only presume, the Earth.
One man is left alive on Manhattan island, and despite his attempts to find survivors and a cure, he remains alone and continually fails to create a vaccine.
I don't want to reveal too much of the plot as this will spoil some of the slow reveals in the film, not that they are surprises, it's just better to see them evolve with the film.
The first thing I really liked about the film is the slow and deliberate pacing. Some of the footage I'd seen before the film had led me to believe that we were going to be seeing a lot more straight up action, luckily that wasn't the case and the film looks more to the isolation of the main character and how he's dealing with being alone.
Until that is the end of the film comes and the climactic sequences leap into effect, and these are much more effective and impactful for the very fact that the rest of the film has been paced slowly, allowed time to develop the character, and narrow the possibilities until there seems no hope left.
The slower pacing also allows for much more time spent on the character development, and it effectively creates the feeling of isolation and loss of hope of the lead, and Will Smith plays the character superbly well.
Smith has some key acting moments in the film, for the most part these are subtle and slow, almost unnoticeable, as he shows how strong an actor he can be. You can visibly see the total lack of hope he develops and how he is clinging on to the smallest aspects of humanity in order to keep believing that there's some way back. As the film develops this hope slips as events develop around him, and you can see this in his performance and it is utterly convincing.
His character is close to losing it and relies on his routine and whatever he can do to remind him of his own humanity. However as the world moves on around him everything he's clinging to is removed and all that's left to hold onto is the certainty of his situation, the guilt he carries for being a survivor, and the hope that he can bring it all back.
Having not seen Ali, my previous favourite Will Smith performance in Six Degrees of Separation has definitely been surpassed, and one moment stands out in my mind above all. Near the end of the film he talks with an incredible drive and passion about his certainty that there is no help, of why he's so sure there's no one else alive, and the power and anger in that delivery is stunning. It hit me hard and it convinced me that he so believed himself, and so wanted to believe.
What I also like about the film is that it keeps everything small and focused on the lead and his circumstance, the film doesn't pull out and try to become some epic blockbuster, it keeps it personal and enclosed, one could even say isolated.
For this reason there's nothing ever too big in the film's sequences, there are the climactic scenes, or the flashbacks to the evacuation of the city, but again you'll see that each of these are kept focused on the characters. Rather than overdoing the film with big effects and too much going on.
The flashbacks were something that I thought were carried out particularly well as they could have explained the entire situation and outbreak, set the family dynamic, built the growing danger in the city, shown the plans to evacuate, the panic in the streets, and ultimately show the final moments before the city was closed off.
There was so much it could have done, and yet the scriptwriters, director and editors decided to focus the story on the individuals again, pull it into just what was needed dramatically to build the guilt and drive of Smith's character for the audience, and nothing more. In fact editing these scenes down any more would certainly have resulted in damaging the storyline, here they've nailed it just right.
They haven't decided to build a great effects scene of the entire city in trouble, being sealed off, of great sequences of infected people trying to escape, they've simply captured the frustration and fear of these people, and given the audience enough to see the origin point of the Smith character.
All in all the film did a good job of staying clear of so many Hollywood sequences, although the ending is very close to becoming Hollywood I think it manages just to hold onto the strength of the characters, and we find the humanity and hope once again in the lead character. Right at that moment there's also a demonstration of something that is ultimately human in both characters, and I shall say no more for fear of ruining the story. Suffice to say these moments do overpower the ending which does bow a little to Hollywood.
While we're on the subject of things that didn't quite meet up with the strength of the rest of the film, then the computer effects have to be mentioned. Unlike most others I thought the city effects were really good and very believable, however the creature effects didn't quite match that level, and by creature I mean the animals in the film too.
The deer and lions that we see near the start are an indication of the level of creature effects we're going to see. Having watched some stunning BBC wildlife and dinosaur documentaries I had high expectations of creatures created in CG, however it was obvious that the effects here weren't going to match those of the BBC documentaries.
The deer were very good, but not quite right, and when you see the few glimpses of the lions close up you'll realise that something isn't quite right, especially if you've seen some other great CG animals before. However you know it's a lion and they aren't on screen long enough to bother you that much.
What I do think let the film down somewhat were the creatures themselves, they were very well animated and created, but they looked flat, plastic-like and definitely computer generated. While the human characters never get that close for direct comparison that often, there are a couple of moments where they do, and when they do it does hit you that they are undoubtedly fake.
Something else which allows you to ride over the creatures and their lesser CG is the fact that they are given such real and distinct personalities. Their movements and behaviours are extremely realistic and feel real, so that the poor effect looks like a sheen over the surface.
The thing that really rescues this film from that pitfall though is the story, the pace, and the concentration on the characters rather than a straight horror or survival film. Those aspects made me see these as blemishes on the film rather than failings or rotten parts within.
Actually, that was an aspect of the film which I thought really empowered it, the realism, or the attempt to make it as realistic as possible if the instigating event occurred and the virus spread. Everything was pulled back and rooted in our real world, from the behaviour of Will Smith's character and his obsession with order, clinging to the vestiges of human behaviour, to the bigger scenes of closing off the city. Nothing is made too epic, and when it looks like it is, such as the evacuation or the mid-point of the film and the character's realisation of incredible loneliness, it's always focused on him, rooted to a real person.
Despite the CG, it was really well filmed and visualised, helping to keep that reality and focus on people. One scene in particular that struck me was when both the dog and the lead character are in a darkened building and the camera is following, hand held, with an over shoulder view.
This was one of the most tense and frightening scenes, and I was completely taken with Smith's performance where you could sense his fear and his trepidation, reluctant and uncertain on every step. Then the moment where he begins to cover the gun light with his own hand, controlling his breathing – I was totally taken in and thought it was one of the most tense scenes I'd watched in a very long time.
Much of the film carried a strong tension and each shock or fright had me leaping in my seat, and that is a huge indication of how intensely I was taken into the film, for I usually anticipate such moments in films, just because I've seen so many and know the build. However when I'm actively involved in a film and feel like I'm being taken along with the story, I get caught, and I was with this film, all the way through.
Oh, one more thing I have to mention is the great music in the film, and often the lack of it. The score is very good, and there seems to be an effort not to overwhelm it with great orchestral scores. This mirrors the loneliness and solitude felt by the film, and so when the music does kick in you really do feel the effects.
A score is a hugely powerful weapon, but not when it's being used every five minutes and advertising three albums of film-related music, like some of Smith's more mainstream films. Here it's the opposite, and it works superbly.
Overall I'd highly rate this film. I know that there's polar opinion on I Am Legend, with those either hating it or loving it, however I don't see that much to hate, and in a sea of half attempted remakes, sequels, re-imaginings and prequels based on accountancy figures, this is a very welcome film.
Will Smith gives a superbly powerful performance, and Francis Lawrence continues to pull the film back from epic and grandiose moments to keep it clearly rooted in reality and on the individual.
Watching the character go through his loss and re-acquaintance with hope and humanity is a great thing, and an aspect I really wanted to delve into more in the review but didn't want to start discussing the key character scenes in the film.
It is slow and deliberate, building on characters, and steering as clear of Hollywood moments as it possibly can. Yet it provides some superbly cinematic moments and a great story that is very relevant.
Yes the computer generated creatures do let the visual side of the film down, however since that is the polish over the surface of the story I do feel that it doesn't degrade your enjoyment of the film too much. After all, this is about the characters more than anything.
That is where a warning comes out. A family friend mentioned yesterday that she wouldn't see this film after the review she read, which went something like this:
“Will Smith runs around during the day hunting vampires and killing them, trying to find a cure at the same time. By night he sits alone in his house as the last man alive.”
Wow, talk about lazy critics who didn't even bother to watch the film. What film they were watching I don't know. Believe me, that is not the film that I saw, there are no vampires, and the focus of the film is far from that description.