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July 9th, 2007:
Robert Neville (Will Smith
) is a brilliant scientist, but even he could not contain the terrible virus that was unstoppable, incurable...and manmade. Somehow immune, Neville is now the last human survivor in what is left of New York City...and maybe the world, but he is not alone. He is surrounded by "the Infected"-victims of the plague who have mutated into carnivorous beings who can only exist in the dark and who will devour or infect anyone or anything in their path. For three years, Neville has spent his days scavenging for food and supplies and faithfully sending out radio messages, desperate to find any other survivors who might be out there. All the while, the Infected lurk in the shadows, watching Neville's every move, waiting for him to make a fatal mistake. Perhaps mankind's last and best hope, Neville is driven by only one remaining mission: to find a way to reverse the effects of the bacterium using his own immune blood. Unfortunately his blood is also what The Infected hunt. Neville knows he is outnumbered and quickly running out of time.What to Expect:
I go to sleep every night safe and sound knowing that Will Smith is out there watching over me and the rest of humanity. Whether it is aliens or a crippled mad scientist or even a line of malfunctioning robots, Will Smith will be there to protect us, and even make us laugh doing it. Yet it has been almost three years since we called on the fresh prince for protection. Do we live in a safer world where evil robots and crazed aliens no longer roam wild? Or has Will Smith abandoned us to do regular old comedies like Hitch? Well, luckily for me and everyone else on earth it is the former, because in 2007 Will Smith shall protect us again! This time around he faces probably his toughest challenge to date, a bacterium that has mutated the human race into vampires in I am Legend. Yet, we cannot write off Legend as just another stupid Will Smith saves the world flick because it is bringing one of the most important science fiction novels of the 20th century to the screen: Richard Matherson's 1954 classic I am Legend. Article continues below
This novel really raised the bar for writing about the super natural. What set it apart from its predecessors was the fact that Matherson gave scientific explanations for the supernatural instead of relying on legend and lore. This approach became the norm for books and movies that followed, zombies no longer just rise from their graves; they are infected. Yet this approach also makes it very difficult to transform the novel into a movie. Two previous attempts have already been made; in 1974 we had Omega Man starring Charlton Heston and a lesser known version ten years earlier starring Vincent Price called Last Man on Earth. The latter Vincent Price version was a very small Italian release and went almost unnoticed. However, Omega Man was a major success for Warner Bros.
with lasting appeal. Thus, it only seems natural that Warners would try to remake this movie with a bigger budget. Both earlier movies did not stray too far from the novel, staying true to the spirit of the character as well as the situation he is in. Will the big budget Will Smith remake be able to do the same, or is it going to make Matherson regret selling Warner Bros. the rights decades ago?
The studio has been trying to remake Omega Man since 1994. In 1997 the first attempt was made with Ridley Scott directing Arnold Schwarzenegger as Neville but the movie fell through due to budgetary concerns in 1998. In 2002 the project was revived, this time with Arnold producing and Michael Bay directing, but it was once again shelved, this time because Warner Bros. president Alan Horn did not like the script, and I am sure Horn had reservations about Michael Bay
being able to do the movie within its budget. The project did not stay on the shelf for too long having been reincarnated in 2005 with Francis Lawrence
(Constantine) directing and Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) writing the script. Goldsman made two very important decisions to shape the movie. First, he rewrote the script to be more like Omega Man which was to the liking of the Warner Bros. execs. Second, he moved the setting of the movie to New York instead of LA. The latter was done to highlight the utter emptiness of the world. As he put it, ''L.A. at two in the afternoon can look deserted, but a New York without human life is a pretty striking environment.'' The final piece of the movie was acquired in 2006 when Will Smith was hired to star as Neville and production was finally ready to begin, but they were not out of the woods just yet.
Lawrence really wanted to film a scene of the evacuation of New York via The Brooklyn Bridge, but he underestimated how hard it would be in the post 9/11 world. The first challenge was not to scare the people of New York and provide security for the massive six day shoot that included one thousand extras, several Humvees, three Stryker attack vehicles, a 110 foot cutter, several other boats and over one hundred-fifty national guardsmen in full uniform. The producers eventually had to get the approval of 14 separate government agencies and launch a massive preemptive information campaign to let people know that a movie was being filmed, not an actual evacuation. The second challenge was dealing with the extreme cold of a January night on the Brooklyn Bridge. When all was said and done the shot ended up being the most expensive shot ever filmed in NY, costing the studio a whopping five million dollars. Furthermore, several people were hospitalized for hypothermia from the brutal cold. Yet, it was not all bad. The movie is now guaranteed to have a cool scene which is featured in the trailer
and as many of us know, often times it only takes a cool thirty second trailer to sell a movie. And to add a little icing on the cake, Warners got a little free advertising in the form of the millions of citizens of NY who were woken up by the massive production. The rest of the shooting was not as big or expensive, but the movie managed to pile up a massive $180 million in production costs becoming the most expensive movie to be filmed in NY from start to finish.
Yet there remain lingering questions. As I mentioned earlier Legend is a very challenging story to bring to the big screen. At first glance it seems like a simple post apocalyptic survival story, but upon closer examination it is much more than that. First of all, the reason it is called I am Legend is a reference to vampires being legendary monsters that hunt people while they sleep. However, in this story it is completely flipped. Vampires are the only ones left on earth and humans are the ones that hunt vampires while the vampires sleep. Neville is the monster that everyone fears, but no one sees, hence the name I am Legend. Both earlier movies avoided that theme almost entirely not to upset a human audience. I disagree with that decision; I find that idea intriguing since it underlines the theme of man destroying his environment. First, we created a bacterium that turns humanity into true monsters, and then we try to destroy what we created before we can really learn anything about it. Unfortunately, I doubt that the studio would invest over 100 million dollars to challenge the audience in such a manner. The second challenging aspect of the movie is the mental health of Neville. He is not meant to be a hero, just an ordinary flawed man placed in extraordinary circumstances. He must deal with the trauma associated with knowing that the entire human race could be wiped out and the loneliness that comes with being the last man on earth. In Omega Man, Heston had filled his house with store manikins with whom he had regular conversations and even played chess against, making him look completely crazy. Yet, Heston has a very intense personality allowing him to pull off crazy with great ease. It is going to be much harder for the likable, charming Will Smith to do the same. The final and most challenging piece of the story is the vampires themselves. If vampires survive by drinking blood, how can an entire race of vampires live very long in a city with only one human? Omega Man dealt with this issue by simply avoiding it. In that version, the vampires were more like light sensitive zombies than actual vampires. It is rumored that in Legend the vampires will develop a serum to suppress their need for human blood. I personally doubt that the director will be able to address all these issues in a way that will satisfy the fans of I am Legend. It is of course only his second major project.In Conclusion:
The jury is really still out on this one. The story is a great one, but extremely challenging. I think that Will Smith was poorly cast as Neville. Smith has the ability to liven up dull characters with his humor and charm, but that same humor and charm can oftentimes trivialize the deeper aspects of the character's persona which is very important in this story. Furthermore, the big budget of this movie can force the producers to avoid the more controversial themes of Legend, like man's destructive nature. I am fairly certain that fans of the book will be very disappointed by this rendition. On the other hand, if you are not a die hard fan looking for the movie to pay homage to the novel, then you might find this flick rather enjoyable. It has a great story, with lots of action, cool special effects and an extremely likable leading man in Will Smith.Similar Titles: I, Robot
, Omega Man
, 28 Days Later