Will Smith finds himself in a bit of a career quandary if you ask me. Sure, one of the good sides to being as as he is is that he’s quite the popular guy that nobody wants to see get killed. But the popularity has seemed to stymie him a little bit. When he does dramatic work, it’s clear that the push is for him to win an Oscar, like in Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness. So when people look past that intent, even when he might want to do dramatic work, he’s forced to take on slightly darker roles in action films, which I guess serves as his happy medium of branching out while still pleasing the people. I Am Legend is another one of those examples, very similar to another Smith sci-fi film named I, Robot.
I Am Legend is based on the Richard Matheson novel and is loosely inspired by Charlton Heston’s 1971 film The Omega Man. This version is adapted by Akiva Goldsman, who won a Screenplay Oscar for A Beautiful Mind, and directed by Francis Lawrence, whose first feature effort was the supernatural comic book film Constantine. But in case you don’t know much about the film or really had a concern to go see the Smith film, he plays Robert Neville, an Army virologist. Robert was responding to an effort of a virus that ironically was supposed to be a cure for cancer. But instead of ridding the body of cancer, it became a bug that infected humans, turning them into psychopathic, ultraviolent zombies, out to kill any members of the living. Neville continues to work on a cure for the virus, even after it has decimated the world’s population.
In theory, this is a decent idea to be sure, even if it’s a little bit of Will Smith doing an interpretation of Cast Away type of thing, and the character he plays certainly still tries to do what he can to bring the world back to some sort of good health, despite the effort being futile, in large part because, you know, everyone is gone. But it seems to transform from that to something a little more conventional and boring, kind of like the way that Smith’s career seems to be turning into.
By conventional, I mean that Smith’s solitude (aside from a German shepherd) only goes so far, as introductions to other characters that have “miraculously survived” follow, almost as if there’s no faith in Smith’s dramatic ability. Then you have the creation of a single protagonist, which is ridiculous, as crazy zombies aren’t enough of a protagonist, there’s one who is supposed to be REALLY mean. They’re all androgynous, so one being more of a badass just gives him/it more mass than everyone else. And the ending, while kind of dumb, at least is a little bit daring. But what do I know, a truckload of people watched this thing, and I was one of them, even though I started to kind of laugh at the thing as it unfolded.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is full of pleasant surprises, from the get go. Directional activity is aplenty here, and most of the action scenes pack a subwoofer-type punch in them, and the environmental sounds are also reproduced rather accurately. While all of this is good, it doesn’t seem as active as it probably should be, so yeah, this would be a full monty score if I didn’t have any reservations.
2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen viewing that, for whatever reason in my mind, doesn’t translate well to video. It’s not that the picture isn’t sharp; it is, but the seams between the computer effects and the shot footage seem a little more obvious to me now, and the effects themselves look a little bit goofy too. The tight shots do sport a bit of detail in them, but I dunno, I guess I was expecting more.
First off, let me talk about that whole alternate ending thing. If there was a word or phrase to describe it, it’s clearly a whole “Love Conquers All” ending, with actions of the vampire zombie things being so contrived that they border on comical. I’m glad that they went for the original ending, and not for the reasons of what becomes of Smith’s character. The alternate ending is about the only thing that’s different from the alternate version that’s pimped out on the second disc. The good side of the second disc is that there’s a digital copy of the film that you can extract, which is a welcome surprise.
In terms of other material past that, there are some animated comics that complement the story which are included and are kind of decent, but the other supplements are on the DVD-ROM portion of the disc, starting with “Cautionary Tale,” which examines the science in the film, and includes interviews with Smith, Lawrence, Goldsman and some of the scientists from the CDC and other areas that involved some research and attention to detail, and hey, my Dad’s old boss from the National Institutes of Health gets some interview time on the disc, so there’s a very small bragging point for me there. There’s also some computer animatics that discuss the impact of viruses on cells and some real world events surrounding them, and it’s well worth checking out, despite all of the interspersed clips of the similarly viral-themed film Outbreak. There’s even time spent on the virus-hunters (so to speak), and the piece runs about 20 minutes. From there, you’ve got “Creating I Am Legend”, which is the making of piece, however it’s broken down into more than 20 smaller chapters, which leads me to think that this was a group of webisodes or something. But it examines Smith’s training, some of the more production heavy aspects of things, the visual effects, the usual song and dance. Why it’s on the ROM portion of things is beyond me though.
I Am Legend is full of thrills and chills, pops and bangs. While Will Smith’s performance in the film as the presumptive last man on earth is an interesting and challenging concept, the intrigue only goes so far before it becomes just another formulaic popcorn movie. If you did see the movie in theaters, you’ll be glad to see that it looks and sounds quite good, though the extras are a little on the hollow side for me. It’s a solid rental for a Saturday night.