It was a nasty day out yesterday, but my glee kept me warm as I trudged to the theatre to see "I Am Legend." Our party consisted of myself, my leg warmer-wearing wife, and Rob, a good friend and upstairs neighbor. Rob has never read the book, so I was keenly interested in hearing his comments afterwards.
The theatre was relatively crowded, and so I wasn't surprised when I read in Variety this morning that the flick grossed $76.5 million over the weekend, the highest December film opening ever. Still, we were able to find good seats (after getting our popcorn and drinks, of course) and settled down for what I hoped would be 100 minutes of pleasure. Sadly, what we got was only about sixty minutes of it, with the last forty taking a schizophrenic turn that left me as unsatisfied as Teddy KGB after Mike McD takes him down in Rounders.
The movie begins with Robert Neville (Will Smith) zooming down the streets of an abandoned Manhattan, trusty rifle on his lap and his dog Sam in the seat next to him. With the aid of flashbacks and taped news, we learn that in 2009 a scientist (Emma Thompson, who sadly only appears just once) discovers a cure for cancer by genetically reengineering the measles virus. Called Krippen Virus (or KV) , it soon mutates, killing over 90% of the world's population, with 1% being immune and another 9% becoming infected and transforming into vampire-like ghouls. Neville is immune to the virus, and three years later he has concluded that he is the only survivor left.
A military virologist, Neville spends some of his day researching a cure in the basement of his Washington Square apartment. The rest of the time is spent exploring the streets, and it's clear that after three years by himself he might have a few screws loose.
So this is the first sixty minutes, and I have to say it's pretty darn awesome up to this point. It's almost all psychological, with Smith ably carrying the film and showing his underappreciated acting chops. There are two extremely powerful moments, one in his basement and another in a music store, where all we see is a close-up of Smith's face, and the horror of the past three years is evident in every twinge.
And then it all turns to mush when two other survivors show up. I hate ruining movies for people, so I'm not going to say much else, except to point out that until then the movie had been a relatively faithful adaptation of the book, and when it strayed the movie suffers severely. Don't get me wrong, there are some nice scares here and there, and a few intriguing twists, but it's certainly not the taught psychological horror film of the first sixty minutes.
The moment the credit's rolled my wife uttered an unprintable reaction, but suffice to say she was extremely disappointed. I also felt unsatisfied and a bit frustrated, the way I feel when watching the Cowboys underperform against a clearly inferior team like the Eagles. As for Rob, he reacted more favorably - he seemed to think that overall it was a good film, and while he clearly didn't love the second half, he wasn't as put out as we were. I think once he reads the book and realizes how much better it could have been he might change his mind though.
I still recommend you see it, so long as you lower you expectations a bit. But if it came down to reading the book or seeing the movie, it's a no-brainer. Microwave some popcorn, snuggle up on the couch with a nice blanket, and read away.