Review: I Am Legend

December 21, 2007 at 1:48 pm | Posted in Re + Views | Leave a comment
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I’m not a huge fan of the cinema and obviously writing a film review would be considered a waste of time in my opinion. But since I know that not all films suck and time you enjoy wasting is not wasted, I’ll have a shot at this anyway.

The idea of an apocalyptic future, ideas about zombies and vampirism, undoubtedly would have held all their novelty when Richard Matheson wrote I am Legend more than fifty years ago; but half a century on, it still holds its freshness.

The beginning itself succeeds in creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and dread. We follow Dr. Robert Neville through the streets of New York City – which is teeming with roads sprouting vegetation, silent, immovable vehicles, and we sense the expectation and trepidation that hang heavy in the air. Suddenly, the influx of a herd of deer break in and Neville pursues them around armed with guns, stepping out of his vehicle and then finding himself face-to-face with a lioness that takes the deer as prey and then goes her way, sparing him. This is the first of the close encounters with death that Neville has throughout the film.

The problem is revealed to be the invention of a cure that supposedly heals cancer; but something goes nightmarishly wrong and it results in a virus that affects humans beings (and other creatures as well) throughout the world, stripping them off of any recognisable traits, and turning them into savage beasts that thirst for blood and destruction. In a series of three flashbacks, we are shown the turn of events dealing with the city and Neville and his family. And the fact about how, despite all human efforts, the tables turn over and the downfall finally sets in. It is the beginning of the end of all civilisation. It ends with the brilliant scene of the bridge collapsing, and the looming colliding of the two helicopters whereby Neville loses his daughter and wife.

Now that Neville is established as an isolated character with no one but his dog Sam to accompany him, we glimpse his human traits in all their remoteness. His loneliness sometimes borders on insanity, with him visiting the DVD store daily and talking to mannequins – all reinforcing his solitude and his need for contact with another human.
But also apparent is his determination for survival, his optimism – as evidenced by the fact that he broadcasts daily on all AM frequencies, hoping that there is someone out there, someone who’s as normal as him – and his efforts of finding a cure. Daily in his lab, Neville examines the specimens, conducts experiments, never losing sight of his goal.

The film has its share of some truly frightening scenes. One is where Sam chases the deer into a building despite Neville’s frantic restraining, and Neville follows her into darkness and silence and finds himself just in front of a group of zombies, all huddled together in a corner, the sight of them truly eerie and bloodcurdling. He backs out very slowly, finally finding Sam and together they run out of the building, but not before the zombies hound after them – Neville and Sam are running flat out, but the zombies are catching up fast – Neville breaks in through a glass window and falls down, and one zombie follows suit: but of course, exposed to sunlight, and it wisps away. Another one is when Anna saves Neville when he’s an inch away from death – and literally, because the zombie is an inch away from his face. But the most frightening scene of the film is the one when the sun is about to set, a thin strip of sunlight on the road, with the infected hounds of dogs just on the border, the zombies waiting to unleash the dogs and themselves on Neville and Sam, once the sun completely goes down. Neville is dragging himself back into the car, his leg injured with the knife, and all the while the strip of sunlight is becoming narrower and narrower, when it finally vanishes, and bang! The zombies and dogs are after Neville and Sam. Thereafter a terrific dog fight ensues in which Sam is seriously injured – but they manage to get away. Back in the lab, Neville is lying with Sam in his lap, but his worst fears are confirmed – Sam is infected. Neville is forced to strangle his long time faithful companion. And with that he loses Sam, becoming lonelier than ever.

But soon he finds himself two new companions, after getting his life saved from one of them: Anna and her son Ethan. The atmosphere is more or less relaxed – they’re safe in the house, no zombies in the vicinity, Shrek playing on DVD. But this doesn’t last long – there’s a bang somewhere and Neville and Anna realise that the zombies are breaking into the house itself. Terrifying, desperate and frantic. With the zombies penetrating the house, Neville guns down as many as he can while Anna rushes upstairs to Ethan. Neville then runs up to Anna – and this is one of the highlights of the film – one of the zombies is sticking to the ceiling, scraping it off, tearing everything viciously, while Anna and Ethan lie crouched beneath the bed, terrified. As a gasp escapes Ethan’s lips, the zombie becomes aware of their presence and sets out to strike – but Neville shoots him out just in time.

Neville, Anna and Ethan seek refuge in the laboratory in the basement. As their eyes fall on the zombie that Neville had acquired earlier on, they come to know that Neville has succeeded – the cure seems to be finally working. They don’t have another moment to think, as the zombies come crashing down into the lab – and we reach the climax.

The ending is one of the most remarkable things about the film. Imagine this: you’re stuck in a lab with a whole horde of vicious, pale, red-eyed zombies in front of you, with nothing but a glass between you both. What do you do? Well, in Dr. Robert Neville’s case, he extracts blood from the specimen and hands it over to Anna, the cure being in its blood – it’s their only chance, their only hope, of curing the rest of the world. All the while the zombies are getting desperate, banging on the glass, which is due to break down completely any moment – Neville convinces Anna and Ethan to escape through the fireplace, and turns to the zombies. He sacrifices himself.

Thanks to Neville’s invention, life is restored. The world is normal again. As Anna points out, they are his legacy. He is legend.

The film’s message? Here today, gone tomorrow. Technology might be progressing, but in which direction, you never know. The film causes you to question your way of life in the most unpredictable way: money, fame, power, things that we all hanker after – all of them mean nothing, nothing at all, in the face of the whole humanity at large. The only thing that matters is to lend out a hand to others. To sustain hope.

To light up the darkness.

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