Monday, December 17, 2007

I Am Disappointed

First off, I Am Legend was much better than it had any right to be. Let's be honest, the odds weren't exactly in its favor: The guys who did Constantine see a much better movie and decide to dig up a Richard Matheson story to one up that movie with cartoonish special effects and Will Smith. Seriously? That sounds like a buddy picture at best. Most men buy cars when they have this kind of a mid-life crisisy, wild hair up their ass, not producers Akiva Goldsman and Erwin Stoff. They celebrated their midlife crises by making a Will Smith movie. Ok, let's start with the good.

I Am Legend
by Francis Lawrence

A lone scientist prowls New York like a chic Trader Horn. There's no one alive but him and his dog, wild animals roam the street, his house is fitted with military-grade defence mechanisms, and he keeps performing experiments in his basement on rats. What happened? And what about the pale guys that keep trying to kill him?

Will Smith here is the best he's been since Ali (granted I didn't see Hitch, but...) and I put this up there as one of his two or three best dramatic roles. He's reigned in, which really, REALLY helps him out. And it helps that he's supposed to be a little crazy. If I can buy the Fresh Prince as a scientist, then the film cannot really be called a failure. His few emotional scenes and the prologue flashbacks are very well done on Smith's part. It took some getting used to, especially because they show him interacting with manaquins before they ask him to be a concerned father. I knew that was really acting when his dog Sam runs into a dark building where he knows he's likely to encounter the vampire guys. His frantic whispers and muttering was believable and he reminded me of many, many other performances I similarly believed. It was enough to say "ok, Will Smith isn't the problem, so...what is?" How's that for a parallel universe kinda situation. So, now we move on to the bad.

Remember that dark building scene I just described, well it's really effective until they show you what it is he's so scared of. CGI, that's what!!!! The creatures here are about as lame as they come and I blame Goldsman and Stoff fully for this. In an interview they essentially admitted to seeing 28 Days Later and saying "Hey, we can do that." But they had to make theirs different enough not to get sued. What do they do? They go back to some of that Constantine magic and make what should be super frightening half-zombies and make them look like video game characters. I'm sorry, these are just pathetic. To me, if you're dealing with CG villains, it's a little like working with the undefeatable serial killer. What the hell does it matter what happens, they can do anything and so there's no tension whatsoever. What's scary about CG things climbing the face of a brownstone in a few seconds. That's not frightening, that's just silly (what's the difference between that and watching Hulk?). You had so much potential here, why couldn't you have just used people? Name one other movie that uses CG zombies! NONE! Every bad, inane, obtuse, obscene, violent, derivative zombie movie ever made has used REAL PEOPLE as their zombies. Sure they live and die by their make-up and gore effects, but goddamit that's the risk you take with a movie like this. By using CG you are being the biggest coward that a producer knows how to be. How could you possibly get a decent performance out of Will Smith and THEN drop the ball. It's irresponsible. Movies made 20 years before this have better effects. Dragonslayer, Aliens, Day Of The Dead, all of them have better effects and they managed to actually get scary once in a while.

Minor annoyance: This is a corporate production and as such had a decent amount of product placement. This is a ford movie. Mustangs, Explorers and the like are seen throughout. He also uses some big shit computer equipment for keeping records of things, which in the end get destroyed anyway. That's the other thing I don't get. The climax was almost as defeatist as the decision to use CG effects. First of all, it points to many glaring inconsitancies in the creature behavior. Strong enough to break steel, but not glass? Why didn't they break through if they had the strength to all along? Smith's character reports fairly early on that they've no human characteristics left, but then falls into an incredibly elaborate trap involving a pulley system, manaquins, attack dogs and sunlight. Are they zombies or are they centurions? Make up your mind, you lazy prats. Don't just make shit up. This is an end of the world movie, you make the rules. Don't write them and break them in the same breath, jag off! Nothing is so frustrating as seeing a decent film fall apart because the producers got impatient.
What should have been next to get the old heave-ho: The Script. Everything seems fine, save for the inconsistencies with the monster behavior, until we meet the only other two survivors Smith encounters. They show up, eat his food, impose themselves on him, insist he leave with them and leads the creatures to his safe house where they eventually destroy everything, and you know why? God. Yup, that's right, God told them to. And the film paints these two as the heroes in the end. Couldn't it for once, just be people dealing with shit? Were they afraid that their film would be attacked for leaving Christianity out of it completely? Are you really that scared that your epic Will Smith vehicle is going to do poorly because you DIDN'T mention god? Also, that shit about Bob Marley? Everyone on this planet with access to a radio or a lot of stoner friends knows who Bob Marley. A brazilian who listens to Damien Marley is going to know who Bob Marley is, there's no point in suggesting the opposite. It insults even the most uninvolved music fan to even consider that a possibility.
This movie came close a few times, but with each new element it introduced, it undid whatever it had previously established. The CG, the second characters, the trap setting, the climax, the denouement; all irritating and unneccesary. This is a film that could have used that bleak ending Frank Darabont gave to The Mist. Now there's a religious message I can get behind. I Am Legend is good for all the wrong reasons and bad for all the wrong reasons which makes its failure all the more upsetting. There has yet to be a last-survivor movie i've been pleased with. 28 Days Later remains the stand-out and if this film is any indication of its competition, I think it's position is safe and sound. 

No comments: