Thursday, December 20, 2007

I am Legend - the Review

Note: Sorry for the late review - just returned from a trip

The lone sane survivor

Rating: 3.5/5

At first glance, we see the genre (Zombie Horror) and exclaim with exasperation & disdain, "No way! Another one of those semi-dead zombies crawling the earth & consuming/tearing everything in their path. In comes a man to somehow save the world/himself!" .... been there, done that! ho-hum!

But no, the first glance is deceiving in this case. Allow yourself to be temporarily deceived and watch this movie. You will find that I am Legend is just exactly that - a legend, an outcast among Zombie horror movies - in the sense that it retains the all-important human element (an emotional, sensitive core) while the mutilation progresses on screen.

Basic Plot Premise: "Genetically engineered virus, initially hailed as a cure for Cancer turns killer, wiping 90% of human population. 2% remain alive and sane. Remaining 8% become zombies. Enter Will Smith as the only sane surviver in New York city and the apparent impression that he is the last man on earth (with a dog named "Sam" for company - apparently canines are resistant from the air-borne form), searching for a cure. In one of his Zombie encounters, he is overpowered, then rescued by another survivor named Ana and her child .... " - for the rest, watch the movie (or read Wikipedia :P)

What is surprising about the movie is that there is very little of the mutilation and gore. The movie delivers its scares by building up a persistent, never-ceasing tension throughout and introducing suddenly the agile, super-strong zombies. While the scary stuff lasts you an instant, what lingers on is the emotional core of the movie, played perfectly by Will Smith, in what could be described as one of his best performances.

New York as the choice of the desolate city couldn't be more apt. In many ways, NY is perhaps the epitome of human financial & technical achievement - the result of an empowering vision of capitalism and free-will - the bastion of man's creativity. And in many others, NY has suffered tremendously (Sept 11, 2001). In a world bereft of sane human habitation, this city serves as a haunting window to glimpse into a world deserted and forgotten. Manhattan's famous skyline lies deserted, the entire of NY becoming an eerie ghost-town, with weeds growing on the streets and wild animals roaming freely. NY, once home to a bustling populace, now inhabited and overpowered by nature's forces - an illustration of how natures tames human beings. In an atmosphere as overwrought with desolation as this, enter Will Smith as the city's lone survivor scientist, who even after 3yrs continues to believe that he can "fix it".

Will Smith might have wasted himself over disasters such as MIB, MIB II, Independence Day (yea, you can call them time-pass, but they are little more than the Britney Spears equivalent of movies) , but here he brings to play the same sense of emotional ache and angst that we saw in The Pursuit of Happyness. As the last man alive, his motivation to live is constantly wavering and he searches for some tangible meaning to living alone the rest of his life. In order to maintain some degree of sanity, he views tape-recordings of NEWS broadcasts from the happier past, arranges mannequins in a DVD store and strikes up a conversation with them while picking out DVD titles, all along trying to act normal. And we see streaks of how heartbroken and desolate this man really is. And we see how close he is tethering on the border of insanity and hysteria.

Especially notable is the scene where the dog attacks Smith after being infected by the virus and Smith responds by killing his own dog (Sam), his lone partner in his struggle. In that one moment, we see the absolute, maddening grief of a man who has just lost that one thing that has sustained him through a phase of immense turbulence, that has given him some false yet quantifiable sense of hope. And that grief - the magnitude and enormity of it - is completely evident by the subdued yet profound way in which Smith portrays it.

And these are the moments where the movie strikes a chord with your emotional side, as you sympathize with this lone sane (borderline insane) man in a world bereft of all human consciousness and where centuries of human progress lies unused, unappreciated and forlorn.

And thats where this movie is different from other Zombie thrillers - the protagonist (Smith) here is not an uber-cool, unemotional guy, who doesn't flinch even once while going on a massive zombie killing spree or utter even a monosyllable of horror at widespread cannibalism (read: Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil series). Instead, the protagonist is an emotional intellectual, who fervently wishes that he can set things right and is so totally vulnerable at times. This along with a haunting, deserted ghost-town of a megapolis (NY) gives this movie a certain authenticity. Granted there are moments when the movie is not believable (the source/reason for Will's motivation to live as the last man, the manner of Will's rescue, etc), but overall this is definitely a fine piece of cinema with a tangible emotional core that rattles you at times and leaves you distinctly unsettled.

Bottom-line: I am Legend is more a movie about the desolation & grief of a lone man and how he battles it, than a Zombie thriller. It is also a very chilling visualization of how NY, Mumbai, etc will look like once human habitation withers away. In many ways, it reminds us of how far human civilization has progressed and how fragile our existence is. Go watch this movie for more than a scare or two - it will leave you in a thoughtful state, as you contemplate the horror of no human habitation, of all things human - culture, art, music to cease existing - just imagine Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Pink Floyd all coming to naught ....