"I Am Legend" remained in development for many years, with Arnold Schwarzenegger once in place to star with Ridley Scott and then at one point even Michael Bay was thought to be the possible director of the movie. There's also been other stars and directors considered throughout the years, but the pairing eventually wound up being "Constantine" director Francis Lawrence and actor Will Smith. While the fact that Akiva Goldsman's name credited as screenwriter is cause for dismay, the film has turned out better than I'd expected.
The film stars Smith as Dr. Robert Neville, a former military scientist who now finds himself the only resident left in New York City. A few years earlier, what was supposed to be a cure for cancer turned on the world, mutating into a virus that turned people into what appear to be bloodthirsty, vampire-like creatures.
As far as Neville knows, he is the last person on Earth, an immune survivor who roams the deserted streets with his dog by day and shutters himself in at night in order to work on finding a cure. One of the film's most remarkable achievements is how it has convincingly created a desolate Manhattan, with overgrown vegetation, animals running wild (an early scene has Neville hunting deer, only to have a lion swiftly snatch the prey for itself) and signs of the chaos that occured still plainly visible on every street.
The film's other best element is Smith, who gives what very well may be his finest performance here as a man losing his sanity as he tries to save the downfall of civilization. Scenes where he talks to store dummies he's set up to try and have some sort of imaginary company could have been utterly ridiculous, but thanks to Smith's exceptional performance, they grow increasingly moving. The film is - up until the last stretch - essentially a one-man show and not only does Smith capably handle that, he impresses greatly.
The film does have a few flaws, however. While the film's transformation of Manhattan is haunting, disturbing and just plain remarkable (when hearing that they were going to film this picture in New York City, I didn't believe it could be done), the creatures themselves look like generic CGI monsters. They also look a little too CGI. The CGI used to create the animals that occasionally zip through the quiet streets fares somewhat better. Overall, the film's CGI is a little all-over-the-place, with some CGI use that is astonishing and other instances that are just iffy. The film works as a PG-13, but one wonders what the film would be like as an R.
The film's last act, when Robert finds out that he is not the last survivor, sees it starting to lose its footing, but even with some plot holes and a few questionable moments (including one involving "Shrek"), the movie still manages to up the tension as it heads into an intense close. At 100 minutes, the movie remains tight and tense, although the movie does manage to offer a balance between action and quieter, dramatic moments. Overall, while not without flaws, I liked this film quite a bit and director Francis Lawrence manages to once again positions himself as a reasonably promising big-budget director.
VIDEO: "I Am Legend" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen by Warner Brothers. This was a consistently marvelous presentation, with excellent sharpness and detail throughout the show. Some minor artifacting and a trace or two of edge enahncement didn't get in the way of what was otherwise a crisp, clean and often striking presentation. The film's mostly subdued (intentionally, obviously) color palette appeared accurately presented, not looking smeary or otherwise problematic.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was terrific. While it wasn't quite as fierce or aggressive as one might expect, it really did provide a wonderfully enveloping experience, such as one particular scene where Neville has to hunt through an abandoned building after his dog ran in. Surrounds are put to great use during the film, both in the most intense sequences and quieter moments for effects and ambience. Audio quality was excellent, with impressive clarity and moments of deep,strong bass.
EXTRAS: Surprisingly, very little. We get a series of animated comics on disc 1. The second disc offers another version of the film with a different ending. I won't spoil it, so lets just say that the alternate version (which runs an extra 4 minutes) is alternate for a reason: it really doesn't work very well. Users (sorry Mac and Ipod owners - it's just for Windows) can also download a "bonus digital copy" of the film.
Final Thoughts: Overall, while not without flaws, I liked this film quite a bit and director Francis Lawrence manages to once again positions himself as a reasonably promising big-budget director. The DVD offers little in the way of extras, but audio/video quality are first rate. Recommended, although many will find that the single disc edition is just fine.
The Film B+