Friday, December 14, 2007

I Am Legend

My wife and I went to see I Am Legend tonight, and we both thought it was really great. It was a little bit less faithful to the book than I was expecting (the ending is completely changed), but that was probably necessary for modern moviegoer tastes. I was a bit surprised by some of the negative reviews that this movie garnered, which claimed everything from a lack of suspense, to wooden acting by Will Smith, to inept storytelling, to"too little gore."

Well. I think that "too little gore" is easily answered: it's just not that kind of movie. And frankly, I think the opposite advice can be given to most modern horrors, so it's obvious that I'm just not on the same wavelength with those reviewers. We'll chalk that up to taste.

Secondly, my wife and I both felt the movie was immensely suspenseful. The key word here is suspense -- this was more in the tradition of M. Night Shyamalan or Alfred Hitchcock (both of whose work I love), rather than George Romero. To note: I did enjoy the original Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, but I was less than thrilled with Day of the Dead, and haven't wanted to see any of the more recent entries or remakes from that line. I also enjoyed 28 Days Later, though I felt it was overly bloody, and I quite enjoy Stephen King novels (the most obvious comparison being THE STAND, of course, which I believe must have been at least partly inspired by the original novella of I AM LEGEND -- King has noted that he is a fan of Richard Matheson).

So, given all of that, I must say that I thought that this was one of the most suspenseful movies I've seen in recent years. The use of silence, and of light and darkness, was masterful. The CG creatures weren't quite what I expected, but they didn't seem out of place at all to me. The largely solo acting by Smith was his best work, in my opinion -- he displays a fairly wide emotional range here, and does so subtly and convincingly. Those who complained of "wooden" acting, especially referring to the scene in which he recites from the movie Shrek, are simply missing the point. This is a moderately subtle movie that trusts the viewer to catch the emotional cues without the aid of music or extended dialogue. It's all about Smith's expressions, body language, tone -- and that's why I feel like it's his best work.

As for inept storytelling... there are flashbacks, as there are in the novel, and I think that was the main complaint. I thought those were well done, and provided some interesting contrast to the "present" events of the story. I suppose this is a matter of taste once again. Don't get the wrong impression, by the way. It isn't that the movie has done particularly bad with the critics -- it's middling on rotten tomatoes. I just felt that it should have done much better than middling.

The chief complaint that I could lodge against this movie is that it will probably make diehard fans of the book unhappy. The core twist is changed -- and thus the very meaning of the title is altered rather dramatically, actually -- and this will upset those who simply wanted to see the big-screen version of the Matheson novella. However, for those fans who understand what this movie is -- both a modernization and a retelling of the classic tale, with a weaker ending but a much more likable protagonist -- there's a lot to love here.


Karen Mahoney said...

Great review - I meant to say this the other day and got sidetracked halfway through commenting.

I definitely want to see this, and don't mind how much they've changed it from the original story. I LOVED the book, but am always prepared to be open-minded when seeing film adaptations of books I've enjoyed. Plus, of course, there's the not insignificant matter of Mr Will Smith to enjoy watching... ;) I think it comes out over here on Boxing Day.

Christopher M. Park said...

Thanks, Karen! I thought of you when I went to see this -- you were the first person to mention this book to me. I'll be very interested to see what you think when you see it!