Anyone who is even a slightly avid reader generally groans in a mix of exasperation and slight discomfort when a novel he or she is familiar with is converted into the next action movie starring a well-known Hollywood personality.
And if you are one of those people who can’t stand it when a movie does not follow its written predecessor down to the last detail, then you probably weren’t a fan of the latest Hollywood reincarnation of writer Robert Matheson’s I Am Legend.
Preceded by The Last Man on Earth in 1964 and The Omega Man in 1971, the 2007 edition by the same name as the novel stars the ever-popular Will Smith and was released on DVD on March 18.
The film centers upon Dr. Robert Neville, a military scientist who is stranded on the island of Manhattan with his faithful German shepherd, Sam, while the rest of the world has apparently been transformed into light-fearing mutants with a taste for whatever flesh they can get their hands on, including Robert himself.
Robert spends the daytime foraging for supplies and trying to find a cure for the disease, caused by a mutated virus originally intended to cure cancer.
The DVD version of the movie brings with it an alternate ending to the film that was not shown in theaters. While it may not be as satisfying as the version people paid more than $77 million to see on opening weekend last December, it gives the movie as a whole an entirely different feel at its end, and also adheres a bit more closely to Matheson’s original work.
The radically different turn the alternate ending takes signals to the viewers the rise of a new dominant
Also included on both the one- and two-disc releases are four animated comics that together form a prequel to the movie, portraying four locations during and after the infection hits. While not relevant to the plot of the movie, they are indeed interesting and entertaining works.
Smith’s acting and portrayal of Robert’s wavering sanity is an excellent performance, and some of the more powerful scenes of his career to date debuted in this film. Dialogue is scarce, however, but Smith actually does a very good job at being completely alone on the set for the majority of the movie.
Equally significant to the intensity and impact of the film are the settings. Producer Akiva Goldsman (The DaVinci Code) decided to move the setting from Los Angeles — where the novel takes place — to New York because of how much more shocking he felt it would be to see the Big Apple completely empty.
Adding to this mood is director Francis Lawrence’s (Constantine) belief in the idea that silence is golden. Much of the movie is devoid of any soundtrack and, obviously, a city with no people in it is very quiet.
The combination of these two elements makes for a very intense, slightly stressful viewing experience, but one that ultimately proves to be more than just another standard Smith action movie.
The one consistent complaint with the film concerns the computer animation that was used to construct the mutants, and I tend to agree. They end up being very, very inhuman-looking and not quite as scary as you would think monsters that live in the dark would be.
All in all, I Am Legend turns out to be a deeper-than-expected, fast-paced action flick that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and the DVD release adds some very interesting tidbits to the equation. Most definitely a good — if not legendary — buy.