'I Am Legend' explores a different kind of terror

By Kyle Jones
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Staff Writer

- Movie Review -

Picture provided by: www.wikipedia.com

"What if you were the last guy on earth...?"

How many of us have pondered that question at one time or another? Well, to doctor and military officer Robert Neville (Will Smith), that scenario is much more than just a passing thought. It is a grave and lonely reality that he is faced with in one of this season's better flicks, "I Am Legend."

Will Smith stars in this latest adaptation of a 1954 sci-fi novel by Robert Mathewson. Smith plays the lone resident in a depopulated Manhattan. It has been three years since the deadly KV virus swept through mankind and turned everyone into flesh-eating, light-allergic zombies.

Neville, along with his loyal German Shepard, Sam, spends the better part of his days in his laboratory working on a cure for this epidemic. In his leisure time, he scours vacant apartments for canned vegetables and hits golf balls from the wing of a jet airplane that's stationed on a docked aircraft carrier. Neville always makes sure to be home before sundown.

The movie opens with a stunning visual sequence.

Picture modern-day Manhattan: a city that never sleeps, each hour more lively and frantic than the one before. Well, director Francis Lawrence gives us a glimpse of post-apocalyptic Manhattan. The city is deserted. The streets are lined with abandoned cars. Various forms of wildlife now inhabit the land. Vines and weeds have grown upon the streetlights, and grass has begun to sprout up through the concrete. This once hectic and populous metropolitan has decayed into a still and desolate wilderness.

The sheer imagery of these scenes is impressive, and it sets a somber and daunting tone that is fitting for the rest of the film.

Lawrence effectively generates suspense throughout the movie, all while managing to stay away from many of the trusty horror movie staples, i.e. monsters jumping out of the dark and so forth. The suspense that Lawrence and Will Smith bring to this film focuses on the human psychological struggle that one would undoubtedly be forced to contend with in this most dire of situations.

The audience observes Neville as he goes through a series of coping mechanisms in an effort to maintain his mental composure. We see him converse with plastic store manikins, approaching them as if they are just as alive as he is. We watch as he develops a strange sense of attachment to a portion of bacon, treating it with the kind of regard typically reserved for loved ones. This conflict of Neville battling the brink of insanity is every bit as intriguing as his dilemma with the flesh-eating zombies.

Smith deserves endless applause for this film. The charming and goofy leading man is primarily called on to play less serious characters. Smith took a convincing step outside of his comfort zone in this role. Not very many actors can be captivating in isolation movies such as "I am Legend." Tom Hanks did it in "Cast Away," and Smith pulls it off brilliantly in this movie.

This film is compelling on several different levels. It's premise explores the quandary of mankind's self-destructive nature, taking it beyond the scope of the everyday horror, slasher movie.

That being said, there's enough action and visual detail to keep the gore-mongers happy.