I Am Legend (2007)
Warner Bros. had planned a remake of their original adaptation of "I Am Legend", which was entitled Omega Man and had Charlton Heston in the lead, since 1994. The end product appears only thirteen years later, with the project being shelved more than once due to budget concerns and contractual differences. In retrospect, it is quite evident that this delay is one of fortune. Not only did we avoid sitting through I Am Legend as interpreted by Michael Bay or with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead, but in the current global situation, the prospect set out in the film may seem closer and more relevant than in a long time. Francis Lawrence has a clear vision in making this film, and even if it in many aspects is quite different than that of Richard Matheson, and is arguably polished for Hollywood, the tone of the film and the delicacy of the scenario presented will probably delight the ageing writing genius.
Will Smith is a very timely choice in the lead as Robert Neville, and he does so well on his own - acting against none other than his companion German shepherd as the two roam the empty streets of New York. It's a tough position to put an actor in, especially since the rhythm and progression of how he reveals his situation and mental life to the viewer becomes particularly crucial for his character's authenticity. Smith does this remarkably well, and fortifies his recent transformation from comedic actor to a thoroughbred thespian.
Francis Lawrence's direction has its weaknesses, but the depiction of a desolate New York City is not one of them. The film's onset is absolutely breathtaking as we're presented with a stillness that doesn't evoke the usual horror setting of exaggerated spookiness, but rather gets to you by insinuating just how life will go on without us, how there will never be an end, only evolution. It's a calm indian summer where bees and grasshoppers constitute the city's buzz - a haunting reminder.
The narrative structure of I Am Legend is appropriately conventional. We learn to live Neville's daily life with him and we reminisce those chaotic days of political and public despair when the virus infested the city and his current solitude began. We assume Neville's priorities and values in life, and we get involuntary close-encounters with the dangers he is facing when his beloved dog runs off into insecure territories. The direction in this part of the film is sheer genius, because we're given the same amount of control as Neville. Lawrence captures all the genre-specific characteristics of the horror film without forsaking the essence of a well-told human drama or a fairly realistic science fiction story.
The final third of I Am Legend has a couple of unfortunate choices in it that to some extent weakens the overall impression and effect of the film. This is a crucial part where director Lawrence and screenwriters Goldsman/Protosevich could have elevated I Am Legend film into one of the best sci-fis in decades. In the end, they can't quite manage this, and I suppose Hollywood's biblical pull and the absence of Matheson's concluding brilliance will have to take the blame. Still, this doesn't revert the fact that this film gives us one of the most captivating apocalyptic scenarios in a long time.