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I Am Legend (2007)
Rated PG13

Starring: Will Smith, Alice Braga, and Dash Mihok

Rating:
****
out of
*****

2007's I Am Legend is a remake of a remake. In 1964, Vincent Price starred in The Last Man on Earth, a sometimes creepy, but mostly unintentionally funny, story of a man's struggle to stay alive as he fought off hordes of vampires in a city. In 1971, Charlton Heston took on the role of The Omega Man, which featured the same story with the vampires being replaced with "The Family," an anti-technology cult.

This time out, Will Smith takes on the role of Robert Neville, an Army scientist working to find a cure for a virus that has changed the population of the Earth into mindless, frenzied zombies. The virus emerged from a genetically created cancer cure that was allowed to be injected into millions of people before the full effects were known. Somehow, Neville's blood is resistant to the airborne and blood borne virus strains and he diligently works on a cure even as he believes himself to be the last man in the world.

His zombie-like adversaries are only a threat at night. Daylight burns their skin so, during the day, Neville travels through the city hunting down "hives" and destroying them. Unlike the slow-moving, zombie/vampires of the original film (and novel), these creatures are capable of incredible speed and strength. In great numbers, they are virtually impossible to stop, so Neville wisely avoids letting them know where he lives.

To keep himself from going completely insane, Neville tries to have as much of a "normal" life as is possible as the only human in a city the size of New York. He plants a garden in Central Park. He travels to the local DVD store and picks up movies to watch. Neville has placed mannequins in various locales around town so that he can mimic conversations with other people. However, after being alone for three years, his sanity is starting to erode.

Will Smith gives a top-notch performance as Neville. The script -- penned by Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman -- gives Smith plenty of opportunities to shine. However, the real star of I Am Legend is tension. Nearly every scene has the potential to explode into chaos. Director Francis Lawrence ratchets up the suspense so much that even the daylight scenes are ripe with dread. A particular highlight is a chase that leads directly into a hive of the creatures as they sleep.

The biggest disappointment of I Am Legend is the somewhat shoddy special effects work. After an amazing opening scene showing New York being reclaimed by nature, the remaining effects shots scream to be recognized as CGI rather than being realistic. The film works so hard at creating a believable post-apocalyptic world -- and succeeds -- until the spotty computer graphics shatter the illusion. Maybe that's just as well. In a world where cloning and genetically altered food is reality, the premise of a genetically created virus wiping out humanity is realistic enough.

Trivia: The scenes at the Brooklyn Bridge involved over 1000 extras and various military vehicles and aircraft. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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