More noise than signal

I Am Legend

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

The 1954 novel I Am Legend has by this point been fairly effectively strip-mined, either by the original adaptation of The Last Man on Earth or the commie bashing exuberance of Charlton Heston in The Omega Man. Whether another appearance was strictly necessary is open to debate, but one thing’s for certain – this Will Smith vehicle has the budget and CG cahoneys to make this the best version yet. Unarguably. Easily. Surely?

Actually, no, it’s pretty dismal, but perhaps I’m getting rather ahead of myself. In the not too distant future, a scientist by the name of Dr. Krippen tinkers with the measles and creates a cure for cancer. Hooray! Except that a few years it mutates, kills most of the people on the planet and turns the vast bulk of those still standing into ‘Darkseekers’, which we’ll politely leave to one side for the moment. As a side note, if your surname happens to be Crippen, regardless of whether you try to be cool and edgy and spell it as if you’re in Mortal Kombat or something, please do not enter the medical professions. History teaches us that bad things are bound to happen.

So then, this leaves military scientist Lt. Col. Robert Neville (Smith) stuck in a now rather quiet Noo Yawk City working out of his basement lab trying, unsuccessfully, to come up with a cure and stay sane in the complete absence of human company. Rather hampering his efforts are these aforementioned Darkseekers, who would like nothing better than to chow down on Bobby. They’re essentially a cross between vampires (in as much as daylight burns them) and 28 Days Later‘s Rage infected goons. Except they’re done entirely in CG. This rather turns into the film’s major problem.

See, for about half an hour or so I Am Legend is shaping up to be rather promising. New York looks suitably neglected, decayed and abandoned. Smith does a very earnest portrayal of a man with a slender grip on his sanity. The dream sequence / flashbacks to how this nasty mess started aren’t too overbearing. When Neville chases his dog into a building which could well be crawling with things ready to rend his flesh, his fear is palpable. Things are going swimmingly, well, for the audience at least, if not Neville. Then we get our first view of the villains of the piece, after which we might as well all go home.

I suppose all the CG budget must have went into emptying out New York, with this shower being something of an afterthought. It’s been some time since I’ve seen something this important to the integrity of a film look so roundly unconvincing as our rotten CG antagonists. These guys make Van Helsing look good. Hell, these guys make the cutscenes from the first Resident Evil game look like they’re from The Lord Of The Rings. It’s been a little while since I’ve actually snorted with derision at a film, but I Am Legend pulls off that dubious distinction. Although I do have a cold, so there was also a reasonable quantity of non-derision related snorting going on, which I suppose I should mention in the spirit of radical transparency.

This proves to be a rather massive hole in the hull of an otherwise reasonably sound cinematic vessel, one which is more than enough to send it straight to the sea bed. The remainder of the film, and there’s not a hell of a lot more to it if we’re being frank, might as well have taken the rest of the night off at far as I’m concerned. It’s not completely without merit, it must be said. Essentially any point at which our Darkseekers, which must be mentioned is as rotten a name as I’ve heard since Fingerling, are not on screen is actually pretty affecting. Smith gives a performance worthy of a far better film, or a least one where the vagaries of a renderfarm hasn’t left him looking like a complete berk. The action scenes would, at least with virtual actors that didn’t look like loosely bolted mannequins whose jaws were on the verge of falling off, be competent if not exhilarating. In short, if the creature effects weren’t so, so dire, I Am Legend would be alright.

Even with this imaginary increase in quality, it wouldn’t be a better film than The Omega Man, as ludicrous a statement as that would seem to be. In turning the infected remnants of humanity into bawling action dolls rather than a group of desperate, ailing people trying to make some sense of the world as they know it before succumbing completely and dying actually makes this a less complex and involving movie than the Charlton Heston gurnathon. Which is akin to saying that Blades Of Glory is less complex and involving than Talladega Nights or something equally vacuously meaningless, but I’m getting paid by the word here and Papa needs a brand new pigbag.

So, what else is noteworthy about this flick then? There’s a faintly irritating insistence on relating everything to some divine plan, and despite the time of year I’ve really had enough fairy stories to last me a while, thanks. Urr, it’s not too long? Hmm, I think I’m trying a little too hard in the name of balance.

Were it not for the shockingly insulting computer graphics perpetrated upon us this would be a perfectly acceptable piece of fluff, as it is it’s a decidedly unacceptable piece of filth. I can’t shake a mental image of Will Smith having been assured his efforts will be matched by the animation team and then showing up at a premier and staring slack jawed in amazement at the mess that this turned into. Ah well, better luck next time.

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