Will Smith as Robert Neville runs a credible array of intense emotions & brings a solid level of acting to the science fiction action film I Am Legend (2007). Alas, he's frequently emoting to CGI animation that is no more convincing than cell animation or rotoscoping.
It makes for a herky-jerky carnival ride when we go from a lion attack as realistic as a scene from The Lion King (1994) or an image of running ghouls straight out of a shooting gallery video game, contrasting to an image of our hero & his dog asleep inside a vintage bathtub, a completely real last & lonely man portrait.
The unexpected quality of Will's acting versus the cheeziness of the special FX are definitely not in allignment. The editing technique tries to keep the "cool" FX on the screen the least amount of time possible, but it's still long enough for the illusion to crumble before any attentive eye.
Neville & his German Shepard Sam, short for Samantha, are out by day, hunting in the city of New York, which has no other human inhabitants in sight. But Central Park has spread into the city streets & a new ecology has arisen, including herds of cartoon-animated elk & escapees from the zoo such as the cartoon-animation pride of lions.
Neville & Sam hunt cartoons on foot, & from speeding automobile. The streets are clear for high speed chases when that seems exciting to the filmmakers. At other times the streets are cluttered with abandoned vehicles, the asphalt broken, with the returning temperate forest popping out the cracks.
This switch back & forth between impassable streets full of abandoned vehicles & trees, & perfect undamaged roads for pointless race-driving, is merely the earliest of a whole slug of irrational sequences you really don't want to be thinking about too long.
The sun won't be up much longer so Neville & Sam head back to their homey fortress. At sunset, vampiric ghouls, absurdly called "Dark Seekers" as in some assinine video game, crawl out of their shadowy nooks to rule the city.
These are the horrific "survivors" of a man-made contagion that killed the majjority of humanity world-wide transforming too many of the ill into mindless flesheaters, with the very few who had been entirely immune to the illness becoming the vampire ghouls' prey.
If it sometimes looks way too much like a video game instead of a movie, this could well be because it does exist as such under the title "I Am Legend: Survival." As with movies designed to advertise rides at Disneyland & so aimed very, very low i;ntellectually, there's some feeling of I Am Legend being an afterthought to the video game, rather than vis-a-vis, with scenarios thunked up by teenagers & aimed at aggressive tweens.
With a handy laboratory in the basement of his fortress, Neville is experimenting on vampire-ghoul lab-rats looking for the cure. He needs a real ghoul, er, Dark Seeker, upon whom to conduct inhuman experiments, & ends up capturing the alpha female of a pack of ghouls.
Although Dash Mihok & Joanna Numata ostensibly play the alpha male & alpha female, really they are just the bodies over which CGI equivalent of rotoscoping was done. They look cartoon characters, nowhere near convincing.
All the ghouls could've been effectively creepy even as CGI characters if the whole darned film had been a cartoon, but as it is, when they open their mouths as big as their whole heads, with exaggerated cartoon facial expressions generally, they just look like comic book drawings pasted onto photographs of New York City.
The vampiric ghouls are supposed to be mindless devourers but the alpha male clearly wants revenge for the capture of his "ghoul fiend" or girlfriend. He sets a well made trap that Neville barely escapes, & for climax the alpha leads an army of less individuated cartoon spooky-people against Neville's fortress, through a series of cartoon fire-gags & explosions. I hope I'm using the word "cartoon" enough to establish this film is for animation fans much more than for anyone who might've hoped for a rousing sci-fi adventure.
The whole while Neville has had the alpha female in a comatose state in the basement to conduct his nazi experiments for the good of mankind. As do several films of this kind, it pretends that if you find the right antibodies you can cure a virus. The fact that a vaccine may prevent but cannot cure a disease does not keep Neville from screaming helplessly, "I can cure you all!" which even if they let him try, he could'n't've, not really.
He has injected the alpha female with what turns out to be a successful test vaccine, just as the army of ghouls closes in to destroy him & all his work.
Along the route to this moment, he met two immune travellers on their way to a rumored enclave of the uninfected high on some mountain or another. These characters are played by Charlie Tahan as the kid Ethan & Alice Braga as Anna.
Neville wants this madonna & child to escape with a little vile of the alpha female's blood which holds the secret of the cure as derived from his own blood. To give them the chance to escape, he'll have to take a stand in his basement lab, as the vengeful alpha male breaks through the walls with his army.
A good or even a so-so storyteller would've had an encounter between the half-cured alpha female & alpha male who has clearly been after Neville to avenge the loss of his beloved. But there are no good storytellers at work in this script, & all we get for climax is a big explosion in the basement lab, then a coda to assure us Neville's last-minute discovery of a cure reached right hands & everything's gonna be all right, hooray, Neville did not blow himself up with a few ghouls for nothing.
If you've seen the trailer, you've seen the film at its best, & there's blessed little reason to watch the whole thing. I would like to praise Will's capacity to convey abject loneliness & despair, a performance good science fiction could gain by. But it sure doesn't save bad science fiction.
Included in the DVD release is a set of four short-short cartoons with the overall title "I Am Legend: Awakening."
These four short subjects are set in the doomfully plagued world of Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend, & based on scripts developed by D.C. Comics & Vertigo Comics.
Three out of four of these cartoons are very slight, due to their brevity, but a couple are beautifully designed, & one tells a sufficient story to be quite good.
Collectively these are in some ways more rewarding than the ultra-commercial silly-ass movie. At least they are fully drawn to be visually consistent, rather than asking us to not notice the mismatches & disparities between animated & non-animated bits as in the feature film.
In Death as a Gift (2008), a young Chinese woman wanders Hong Kong. Like Neville in New York, she's the city's lone survivor of the plague. She's so lonesome that she leaps to her death. That's pretty much the whole story. Walk around a bit, then suicide. It's nicely animated & effective even if mightily trivial.
Isolation (2007) is pretty bad. It's set in a high security prison in Colorado. This place housed the worst of the worst of America's criminals. When the virus was on its way, all but one man was evacuated.
Whether they jsut forgot him or thought he was too spooky to ever be evacuated is left unclear. He manages to escape the high security prison because the doors unlock when the electricity goes out (yeah right, like "high security" is designed to open automatically when a fuse blows). Off to a wilderness he goes, where he wages war against the infected.
He was apparently a terrorist who wanted to destroy America, but now must admit "The dream is over." The few bits of dialogue all appear in dialogue balloons while simultaneously narrated, as these short-shorts affect to be moving comic books.
Sacrificing the Few for the Many (2007) is just totally stupid. It's set "somewhere" in Central America. Guys in medivac suits are carting away bodies. Soldiers show up in gas masks & slaughter everyone. Two infected young survivors look horrified. The end.
These two really bad cartoons were directed by Brooke Burgess, but the moody & much better Death as a Gift was directed by Ian Kirby. He also directed the one genuinely good piece in this little set, Shelter (2008).
The dialogue for the second time occurs in dialogue balloons, this time without narrator however, & the silent-film effect is rather amazing, with just enough sound FX to make it really clever. Some of the animation affects are nearly 3-D.
The setting is New Delhi. A young woman wants to meet with & swear undying love to her boyfriend before meeting her family in a vault shelter.
Because she disobeyed her father & went out into the infected city, he has no choice but to lock her out of the vault.
We then watch her go through the stages of infection outside the enormous vault door, the whole begging to be let inside, claiming not to be infected.
The story ideas for the animated featurettes are credited to Orson Scott Card, a pretty decent sci-fi writer, but only Shelter was complex enough to have required a writer on board. It has two twists in the tale, first when the vault is finally opened, & second when the infected daughter is reuinted with her infected boyfriend. It's an appalling hard-hitting short subject much better than the feature film.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl