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The Stuff of ‘Legend’

Thursday, February 14, 2008
by
I Am Legend

By: Beal, James17930 & Tanya K.

James17930: Usually I wouldn’t be concerned with writing something about a blockbuster that’s already been out for a couple of months, but I saw I Am Legend recently and it really pissed me off, in that it’s one of those movies that starts off so well, then blows it by being stupid.

Beal: I saw it a few weeks after its big North American release, and as I wasn’t really expecting much, I wasn’t especially disappointed. But all expectations aside, there’s no question: it gets real stupid.

Tanya: I also saw it a few weeks after its big North American release, and wasn’t expecting anything. I was therefore greatly surprised to enjoy myself through most of the film.

J: I was disappointed that it got stupid, not because I had expectations, but because up until the stupid part, I was really enjoying it, and I don’t hesitate to say it was a very strong piece of film-making (well, blockbuster film-making at least). Okay — guess we should get the ‘reveal’ out of the way, so, obviously, if you haven’t seen this and don’t want it ruined, stop reading now (and if you’re still reading, we’ll assume you’ve seen it and that we don’t have to recap).

B: I Am Legend is not nearly a good enough movie to tiptoe around spoilers for. We’re doing people a service by giving them reason not to see it.

J: See, that’s where I disagree — I would urge people to see it, even though it gets stupid, because I really thought everything until it gets stupid is worth seeing, and, hey, maybe they won’t think the stupid part is stupid.

Okay, finally, the stupid part: Yes Anna, there is a God! Yes, unfortunately another example of a writer who thinks that he can just construct a series of coincidences in a movie, or else ‘plant’ a secret message, and use it as an example that ‘fate does exist’ or ‘God works in mysterious ways.’ Obviously I’m referring to the whole “Will Smith’s kid whispers the word ‘butterfly’ for no apparent reason and then three years later a woman shows up with a butterfly tattoo and so this means ‘Every little thing is gonna be alright’ just like Bob Marley said it would.” I hate crap like this.

T: I hated how that aspect of it was a complete rip off of Signs. It doesn’t look like that was in the original book which casts Dr. Neville as more of a homicidal maniac who kills both vampires and people . . . I guess I have two homework assignments: read the book, and go see Omega Man — supposedly a much better version starring the crazy yet wonderful Charlton Heston.

I think that the movie, as a whole, was pretty darn entertaining. So much so that I forgive its pretty stupid ending. Plus the hero dies, and I give kudos to any movie that allows the good guy to get blown up/torn apart by CGI vampires.

B: I’d like to come back to that “lets the good guy die” business later, because I actually have issues with that. But the religiosity of the movie isn’t just a lame, lame attempt to force some kind of arc for Will Smith’s character, it barely even existed in the movie until they needed it. It’s not like a lack of faith was a big problem plaguing him throughout the story; it’s not like he’d been all superfucking devoted to God until God offered to wipe out his family for him. I know that they don’t shoot movies in order, writing the story as they go, but in this case it felt exactly like that’s what they’d done, and then when they got to the end they realized their main guy hadn’t learned shit from his accidental wiping-out-of-humanity.

I Am Legend 3J: It didn’t seem to me that’s why they brought in the God/fate stuff — to teach Neville a lesson; while it was nearly identical to Signs, Beal’s right in how it had nothing to do with Neville’s character in the way that it does to Mel Gibson’s character — at least in Signs it comes full circle in terms of character development. In Legend, it just seemed like a really lame, ridiculous plot contrivance to get the characters out of what was pretty much an impossible situation, and to plant almost a subliminal message with the audience that ‘religion saves while science will destroy us’ (also notice the dastardly, subtle way they do this when Anna arrives at the colony in Vermont, and when they open the doors the first thing you see is a church).

But, like Tanya said, up until that point it was a very good movie — here are my reasons why.

I love ‘total immersion’ movies/books/video games etc. — stories that use a limited third-person narrator, that just drop you into that world without any background info and tell you to figure it out for yourself. All you know is what you glean from seeing it through the character’s eyes, but you’re not in the character’s head. In the prologue we find out a cure for cancer has been developed, and then three years later there’s only one guy left in all of New York and he’s hunting deer in a Charger. Awesome.

Next, when was the last time that a dog had such sympathy directed toward it and was such a vital character in a movie? Probably not since the dog was a volleyball (I’m not counting any of the Air Bud franchise). But Sam outdoes Wilson in many ways as an actor — given that Sam can communicate somewhat with Neville (and by that I mean, show concern by barking, show fear by cowering etc.) they have an actual camaraderie, as opposed to the delusional nature of Hanks’s friendship with Wilson. And the way that Sam’s story plays out really is quite affecting (I hesitate to mention exactly what happens on the off-chance Graeme is reading this when we told him not to — stop it Graeme! See the movie). According to IMDb, “Will Smith grew so enamoured of his canine co-star, Abby, that he tried to adopt her when the shooting was finished, but the dog’s trainer could not be persuaded to give her up.”

Finally — the pacing was spectacular. Total immersion stories need proper pacing like fish need water. If we are bombarded with too much info about the world or story too quickly, then the whole thing seems contrived; if we aren’t given necessary info at critical times, the story will seem vague or confusing. I thought this aspect of the script was incredibly strong, from the opening scene where we are left with so many questions (why does he have to be home before dark? Why is he pouring something on his steps?), to the natural way the story builds to him finding the hive and so on, with all our questions being answered when it fit the story instead of being forced upon us. Which is why it was so, so disappointing that they completely fucked up the ending.

T: That was a Ford Shelby Mustang, not a Charger. :) And I agree with you — the total immersion thing is key. I think a great example of that is Spartan, written by the glorious David Mamet. You’re just dropped into what appears to be a military training camp, but no one ever says that’s what’s going on. I like when a movie assumes I have more than 10 working brain cells.

B: Praise for Spartan is always welcome, regardless of the subject at hand. I was telling a friend how good this apple crumble yogurt I was eating was, and as an aside I mentioned how much of a badass Val Kilmer is in that movie.

There is something great about being dropping in a strange, alternate reality, particularly one that takes the reality we have and paints a layer of “what if?” spookiness over it. Walking around an empty London in 28 Days Later…, exploring the sci-fi ghetto of Half-Life 2. It’s great to be left in these plausibly convincing environments for a while without too much distraction of plot or people yakkin’ at each other. It lets you put yourself there, ask yourself what you’d do if. Yeah, you won’t hear any complaints from me about immersion. It’s how I learned French.

That said, I found I Am Legend’s New York not overly thrilling. I think part of it could be the not-convincing-enough CG gloss over everything, the overly-stylish cinematography reminding us that this is a big movie not in any way to be mistaken with possible reality. Another part is that nothing he really does is particularly interesting or new, it’s all just the obvious desolated-New-York-afternoon activities.

That’s not entirely fair; there were elements that were compelling. For example, when he gets all crazy with the loneliness, and when he goes into panic mode at sundown. The problem there is neither goes anywhere interesting. The crazy/lonely goes underdeveloped and ultimately insignificant, and the night time threat proved to be CGI creatures as convincing as ones from a Resident Evil 2 cutscene.

On another positive note: Will Smith is incredibly ripped. Oh my god.

T: Yeah, no one so far had mentioned how much the CGI vampires sucked — or didn’t suck! Snap! Thanks for bringing that up. I thought it looked like a throwback to 1996. There seems to be a problem in trying to make them look quite human, and so far no human-like character born of computers has really looked quality enough for me. Maybe Gollum – maybe. If the monsters had been more monstrous maybe I would have been more scared. I’ve heard people say that this was one of the scariest movies they’ve seen, and although I was scared for the dog, I wasn’t worried that an oh-so-ripped hero was going to get hurt. Especially since he’s immune to the virus the vampires are carrying. So yeah, I was more than a little bored.

J: Bored? Really? I wasn’t worried for Will Smith because of the virus, I was worried for him because the vampires (okay yes, the CGI was pretty bad) looked like they wanted to rip his face off and eat it. And when he gets caught in the trap, and passes out, then wakes up right at dusk, you get that feeling of anticipating fear, instead of fear itself, which is so rarely done properly (or even seen much) in movies. Think Blair Witch before it became a parody of itself. That was a special kind of freaky, and you get the same sort of thing in Legend. At least, I thought so.

T: Okay, that’s true. I forgot about that special kind of freaky . . . but I just saw this movie again yesterday, and it doesn’t do well as a re-watch. I fell asleep.

J: I will concede that — this is a one-time watcher only, again also like Blair Witch.

Okay, well, I’m just going to post this now — Beal, if you’ve got any more to add, pull up a chair and throw it in.

I Am Legend 2

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Friday, February 15, 2008 6:56 pm

    Naw, I’m good. That thing I wanted to bring back up will fit just as easily down here.

    Tanya said, and I cutpaste: “I give kudos to any movie that allows the good guy to get blown up/torn apart by CGI vampires.”

    I don’t give those kudos, not anymore. Maybe if it’s the hero in a franchise — killing Ripley in Alien 3 was a ballsy move, even if the magic of scifi allowed them to bring her back.

    But nowadays, offing the main doesn’t do anything but annoy me, because it’s just such an easy grab for poignance. “Wow, the action hero died trying to save humanity and the woman he loved. What a deep movie.”

    Movies do this too much, especially those of a darker, more monster-y nature. But if you’re gonna kill off the main character, you’ve really gotta earn that. There’s no good reason Will Smith had to die in this; it added nothing, it came from nothing before it, it meant nothing.

  2. James17930 permalink
    Friday, February 15, 2008 9:53 pm

    He had to die in that situation — meaning, in the way it was constructed, he had to die.

    The problem is said construction was all tied in with ‘the stupid part.’

    I have no problem with the hero dying if it at least makes sense within the plot, which it does in ‘Legend.’ It just didn’t do anything for me here because the ending was so contrived.

  3. Sarah P permalink
    Saturday, February 16, 2008 10:52 am

    Or you could do what Spielberg did in War of the Worlds: kill a character and bring him back IN THE SAME MOVIE. Now that was a stupid part.

    And to kill a ripped hero? A ripped Will Smith? Total lunacy. Mmmmmm, ripped Will Smith….

  4. Tanya permalink
    Saturday, February 16, 2008 11:45 am

    Yeah… I’m giving them kudos for killing Will Smith. As far as I know it’s the first time he’s ever died in a movie.

  5. Sunday, February 17, 2008 1:06 pm

    I’m not saying the immediate situation didn’t logically lead to his death, I’m saying the overall film didn’t warrant his death. It ain’t tough to write your character into a corner where they either have to sacrifice themselves or just plain can’t overcome their adversary. But not every story deserves to end that way, and yet a lot of movies choose that route because it’s a dramatic, “meaningful” climax. Or rather, it’s an easy way to fake a meaningful ending. I Am Legend was tryin’ to trick us.

  6. Thursday, March 6, 2008 8:40 am

    Well how about this? It’d be damn hard for it to be worse, but do you think this one’s better?

  7. James17930 permalink
    Friday, March 7, 2008 12:37 am

    Enh, I actually think this one is worse. The whole time I was watching the movie, I was just waiting for the vampires to have that ‘moment of humanity,’ and when it didn’t happen I was pretty relieved.

    So this ending not only has that it also has Will Smith surviving and everyone’s happy. Too much.

  8. Friday, March 7, 2008 10:33 pm

    On the other hand, them taking his whole “snatching vampires to experiment on (and let’s be honest here — dude was lonely and crazy — probably fuck)” thing and turning it into a possibly-not-so-noble affair is at least an idea with some potential. Sure, its potential was squandered, but then, squandering ideas was this film’s M.O.

    I’ll also take an ending with Will Smith alive and driving off into an uncertain future over a visit to Walled Jesustown any day.

  9. James17930 permalink
    Tuesday, June 17, 2008 11:23 am

    And now Will Smith is a Scientologist. What the fuck.

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