There are three fictional things that can play hell with my subconscious causing me to have nightmares as I sleep once those demons prowling around the cobwebs in my head have been rattled. A better adjusted civilized person might avoid rattling those demons. But as I have been told time and time again by many I’m far from being well adjusted and let’s just not go into me being civilized, that subject is just far too messy.
The three fictional demons that I enjoy shaking up from time to time are unique to say the least and honestly many will find them bizarre. While I admit they are comical I know they represent deeper, serious fears about the world but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to play with them from time to time. One of the three is zombies (yes zombies, I’ll just wait for you to stop laughing…) so when a good book or movie comes out involving the undead or deadish I’m quick to make my way to the bookstore or theater so I can catch it. With release of the new Will Smith movie “I am Legend” Friday night I was first in line with my jumbo tub of popcorn and five gallon Coke. First off let me state so the zombie masses won’t be offended, you know political correctness has to be observed, the movie technically has no zombies. But it does have zombie-like sufferers of a genetically altered virus that carries the vampire-like trait of being severely burned by normal sunlight. With that out of the way I’ll get on with the review.
The movie opens with scenes of a New York empty of people. You quickly see the main bridges to Manhattan blown apart and I believe the entrance to a tunnel flooded with a multitude of cars surrounding the entrance mostly submerged in water all facing in the direction out of the city. Further on in the city cars lay abandoned strangely parked like they should and grass is springing up through cracks in the pavement around them. In the distance you catch glimpses of entire buildings wrapped in plastic with the word “quarantined “ written in huge letters across the plastic. Deer are running freely through the streets being hunted by a lioness bringing home the venison in this case for a New York version of Simba and lion cubs that probably are escapees from the Central Park Zoo. We are introduced to the character of Robert Neville as he races through the streets in a bright candy red Mustang hunting the deer. He corners one deer and is taking aim on it with a rifle only to have that lioness come and take the kill first. Such is life in the Big Apple four years after a man-made pandemic may have killed off the entire human race except for the one man who was charged with finding a cure before it spreads through North America as it did the rest of the world.
As Robert Neville goes through the motions of living we are offered flashbacks of what lead up to this situation. One flashback shows an interview with an apparently British genetic researcher which has her describing how she used an engineered virus to treat cancer and how in over ten-thousand test subjects all ten-thousand were cured of the disease. Later we learn that her cure kills most of her patients with a few developing rabies-like symptoms that can infect both by touch and airborne means. Away from the flashbacks Robert spends his days on a strict schedule as soon as the sun rises in the morning with his only companion a young German Shepard. Robert and his dog Sam eat, exercise, look for supplies throughout the city, and at noon wait at a certain dock hoping that someone else hears his pre-recorded radio broadcast in which calls for anyone alive to meet him there. But in the late afternoon Robert and Sam hurry back to their very well fortified house in which he kills the generators, closes the armored shutters, and then they bed down in an old bathtub. As night fully closes in strange monstrous cries can be heard in the streets surround him.
As the movie proceeds we learn that Robert has not given up on finding a cure to the man-made disease that destroyed civilization. And after some promising results on a lab rat he goes out to capture an infected human subject to test his vaccine. The capture of an infected female from a hive hiding in some dark building highly upsets the hive leader which sets out to even the score with Robert. Despite the easy but determined exterior the character of Robert Neville at various points begins to show the darker aspects of someone who has lived alone for four years after the end of the world. The carefully crafted routine that keeps him alive quickly begins to unravel after a tragic loss in about the middle of the movie. His ghosts are numerous and unrelenting even as he continues to pursue a cure for the disease that killed humanity when all seems lost. They soon begin to get the better of him leading to a point where he almost succumbs to the stress and loneliness that he daily faces. As with most action/zombie films the climax has several surprises being introduced and a glimmer of hope at last seen far in the distance but Robert’s time is running out and the infected inhabitants are watching his every move waiting for him to slip up.Some will come away from this movie unhappy for several reasons. One reason is the semi-religious nature of the insight that points the way to a cure some will say was a copout. The hopeful nature of the movie’s ending is another although my telling you this in no way ruins the movie. For many fans of this science fiction sub-genre both are major sins that usually have all the heroes dying tragic and violent ends. Frankly I walked out of the theater quite satisfied with the hope the movie left ever so slightly burning. For those unaware, and you might be very surprised by how many there are, the world around us is already in a pretty sad state. The evening news many days has all the earmarks of a B-movie disaster flick from the 80’s. From an incompetent sulking president going shill saying World War 3 is around the corner and the bogeyman is under your bed to the occasional news reports of an Ebola or bird flu outbreak someplace in the world and how it may finally be contagious. The educational cable networks regularly broadcast shows listing the numerous ways the world can end from gamma ray bursts that sterilize the entire planet to the ubiquitous asteroid or comet impact that at best sends all of humanity that survives back to the stone age. So I don’t need or want anymore hopeless fictional situations. I had no problem with the “sloppy and simplistic ‘We Are the World’ sentiments” the movie relied on at the end. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and for those not complete cynically about the nature of humanity and what may exist beyond our means to measure and analyze I have to recommend it. I take my little bit of hope anyway I can get it.