Alone in the Dark: ‘I Am Legend’ Retrospective
Why is he a legend again?
When I first saw the trailer for this back in 2007, I was immediately drawn to it. The concept of the last man on Earth caught my attention; that and I myself was living in a similar situation at the time. Once released on DVD I was able to see if it was good or not. The film is I Am Legend, a science fiction horror film which came out in 2007 and was directed by Francis Lawrence.
Before I go into detail about the film, it should be noted that this is the third adaptation of the 1954 novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. The first two being 1964’s The Last Man on Earth, which stared Vincent Price, and 1971’s The Omega Man, which stared Charlton Heston. Development for the third version started back in 1994 with different choices in actors, directors, and screenwriters.
The film’s plot revolves around Robert Neville, played by Will Smith, who may be the last man alive on Earth following a failed experiment. What was supposed to be a cure for cancer turned into a virus that quickly wiped out most of humanity, leaving Neville alone in the ruins of New York City.
The first part of the film revolves around Neville’s everyday life as the last man on Earth. He wakes up, makes breakfast, and exercises. During the day he drives around of what’s left of New York to hunt and gather crops. He also spends time searching through buildings and apartments for additional supplies. He does have one companion in the form of his dog Sam.
He doesn’t just search for food or supplies, he also spends time doing recreational activities. He watches old news recordings, the movie Shrek, and plays golf on an aircraft carrier. He occasionally rents movies from the local movie store and greets the local mannequin population. When the sun goes down he comes back home and calls it a day. He locks up the house and closes the windows with metal shutters. It’s all in a day’s work for the last man on Earth, except he’s not.
Neville is the last ‘normal’ person on Earth, but not necessarily the last person still alive. He makes it home before sundown and barricades his house at night for a very good reason. The virus indeed killed over 90 percent of the human population. Those infected but survived mutated into unnatural beings known as Darkseekers. Darkseekers are pretty much a cross between zombies and vampires. They resemble hairless humans with tattered clothes and rotted skin. Like zombies, their bites are infectious, and like vampires, sunlight harms them, so they take shelter in dark areas during the day, such as in abandoned buildings. When there’s something else around them that isn’t another Darkseeker, they become extremely aggressive and chase after the uninfected. They don’t talk, but they do growl and roar. They are also very athletic and strong, able to climb the sides of buildings, ram themselves into vehicles unscathed, and can fling a grown man effortlessly.
Outside of his normal routine, Neville captures Darkseekers and experiments on them in hopes of returning them to their normal state. Before the viral breakout, Neville was a doctor in the army who was a part of the programthat created the virus. He himself is immune to the virus, however it’s never specifically stated as to why. It’s suggested that he experimented on himself and made himself immune, but as we learn later he could just be naturally immune. He attempts to create a cure from his blood and test it on infected rats and captured Darkseekers. Naturally it doesn’t work.
The story of how New York City fell apart is shown in flashbacks. As the virus hits, Neville was attempting to evacuate his family out of the city using his army connections. His wife Zoe is played by Salli Richardson, and his daughter Marley is played by Willow Smith, who is Will Smith’s real-life daughter. It’s later revealed that Neville named his daughter after Bob Marley, which he’s a fan of. In a very chaotic scene, civilians attempted to evacuate the city. We also see early signs of the infection, which are bloody tears. Neville ends up loosing his family in a mishap involving the evacuation. Moments before, Marley gives her puppy Sam to Neville.
Things go south when Sam gets infected. Dogs are only immune to airborne strains of the virus. They can be infected by direct contact, which happens to her. The Darkseekers eventually build a trap for Neville and sick their infected dogs on him. Sam attempts to protect Neville from the infected dogs but gets injured and infected in the process. When Neville takes her home to treat her he finds that the infection has spread, and it can’t be cured. With no other choice Neville is forced to kill Sam, which completely breaks him.
Neville attempts to cope but he’s just so broken that he can’t bring himself to move on. He comes to a point where he begs a mannequin at the video store to speak to him. At night he goes on a suicide run to take out as many of the infected with his car as he can. He puts up a good fight, but they ultimately overpower him. As they close in on him he’s saved by a mysterious bright light. Some time later Neville finds himself back at his home where he’s greeted by two more survivors, Anna, played by Alice Braga, and Ethan, played by Charlie Tahan.
While Anna and Ethan are initially cautious about Neville, especially with his psyche, they soon interact with him. Anna reveals that she escaped with the Red Cross and she and Ethan are heading to a collective of survivors. Neville doesn’t believe this and says that everyone’s gone. After a few more interactions the trio soon discover that the Darkseekers found where they are, and the film’s climax commences.
The film is mostly about the sole survivor of a viral outbreak, but when you look at it, it could be a double metaphor. Some people feel as if they’re different from everyone else in society and feel misplaced. You can say the same for Neville. He is the only one of his kind still left, at least before he meets Anna and Ethan, and the Darkseekers are a different type of person. Because of the differences he can’t bond with the Darkseekers and if he comes around them they attack him since he’s not like them. The same goes for society. Some people are always around others who they can’t seem to form a connection with.
Whether intentional or not, the film plays on that trope. Once Anna and Ethan show up, Neville has others like him to bond with. In real life, sometimes we can’t bond with others, but sometimes better people come into our lives. This is a small aspect in the film that I believe a lot of people tend to overlook.
There’s not much to say acting-wise. Smith makes you believe that he’s the only normal person left. He does attempt to search for survivors by sending radio messages, but it’s mostly him until the last third of the film. While it may seem silly that he talks to mannequins and a dog, you must remember that interacting with others is a major part of human growth. Once Neville loses Sam he loses his mind and attempts suicide by going after the Darkseekers. When Anna and Ethan appear he initially has trouble interacting with them, especially since it’s been a while since he’s seen another normal person.
While Anna’s role is pretty small, she comes off as a protective mama-bear to Ethan. She’s easy going but is quick to pull out a gun when she feels threatened. She encourages Neville to come with her and Ethan to the survivor collective, though Neville declines and says he’ll stay in New York. She also serves to quiz Neville on his faith. Ethan is just there. He doesn’t say a word, nor does anything of value. His sole purpose is to place a child in a zombie apocalypse, which ups the stakes. The film doesn’t go into much detail about either of their backgrounds, though I believe it’s stated that Anna was a nun.
Being a film about isolation, there isn’t much music. The only real music is the somber tone that plays when Neville sends a radio broadcast to possible survivors. Since Neville is a fan of Bob Marley he plays several of his songs at various points. All the music placements are appropriate for when they appear.
Overall, I am Legend is a highly recommended film. Despite the abundance of CGI, the film does a perfect job with capturing the isolation theme it seeks to portray. My one complains is that there could had been more focus on the everyday life aspect. This film does have aspects of other similar science fiction horror films, such as the 80s film Night of the Comet, and the more recent A Quiet Place. Despite being a horror film, it’s not scary at all, even during the more dramatic scenes. But it does keep you invested and draws in your attention. On certain home releases, there is an alternate ending, which received a better reception than the film’s original ending. For years there have been talks of a continuation of the series, specifically a prequel that would go into more detail about how humanity got wiped out, but as of this day there’s been no word of it. At any rate, I Am Legend is an excellent and entertaining film. While not perfect, it has enough in it to hold your attention.
Original film trailer
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