Alone in New York
In this third attempt to adapt Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend as a film, the blame for the end of the world lies squarely on the shoulders of human hubris, when a genetically-engineered cure for cancer mutates into a devastating plague. This detail, given at the very beginning of the movie, may be the only time the movie directly reflects a current fear about our demise coming at the hands of our unchecked ego and overconfidence. Emma Thompson, in a perfect cameo, can barely suppress her eager glee when the newswoman interviewing her asks her if she's cured cancer. But that's just the first couple of minutes.
The rest of the movie follows Will Smith as Robert Neville, the only surviving human, as he roams an unpopulated New York City. With only his faithful dog as a companion, Neville has not only created a regimen for survival, he's also working on a cure for the disease which, if it hadn't killed its victims, turned them into deadly raging monsters who can only come out at night. I Am Legend provides a well-produced, if not necessarily fresh, version of the apocalyptic scenario, with the most haunting visuals being that of empty New York, overrun with weeds and abandoned vehicles, with only the sounds of wild animals in the distance.
Atmosphere becomes the key strength of the film, along with Smith, who is convincing enough to carry the weight of pretty much the whole movie (though credit also has to go to his co-star, Sam the dog, for capably sharing that weight). Eventually, the story unfolds to reveal itself as an acid test of faith.
I Am Legend isn't anything new. Besides its two other film versions, The Omega Man and The Last Man on Earth, shades of 28 Days Later, Signs, The Descent, etc. appear here, but the movie is notable for being daring in how downbeat it is, especially for a major studio release during the Christmas season. Personally, I'm glad this motion picture doesn't pull any punches, and, frankly, its tone helps to lend credibility, making the film a firm entry into a well-worn genre.
(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated "PG-13" for violence and disturbing elements.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.