Sunday, December 16, 2007

I Am Legend

Yet another theatrical release that I quite enjoyed. I'm really getting kind of confused -- is my brain atrophying or something? 30 Days of Night, The Mist, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, I'm Not There, and now I Am Legend: I've liked almost every film I've seen in a commercial movie theatre lately, and I haven't been to either the Vancity Theatre or the Pacific Cinematheque in weeks. Is this some weird bi-product of personal stresses and age, a leveling of tastes, the very thing I used to feel contempt for in those around me? (How many times have I heard people whine words to the effect of, "I work hard all day and when I get home, I don't want some art film - I want to be entertayyyyned!" God help me, am I becoming One of Them?). Then again - maybe these are all just, well, pretty good movies! I'm used to associating the megaplexes with mediocrity, but perhaps things are actually changing for the better...? Each of these films has been a surprise and a treat, far better than I expected them to be; I feel grateful as all heck to actually be able to find a film playing at a commercial theatre that I can genuinely enjoy.

I haven't much to say about I Am Legend, though. It's no great work of film art, you understand - my praising it should not be mistaken for my taking it seriously! - but it's still damn good at what it does. The craft with which we are presented a post-plague, overgrown, deserted and strikingly silent Manhattan is impressive, as is the restraint with which the material is handled; I was worried that I'd have to put up with Will Smith playing the clown and a vast amount of gunplay, but in fact, the film is far more about mood than it is about action (Michael Bay fans probably won't like it very much, which is fine by me). It even has a relatively short runtime; in an age where the prevailing concept of a blockbuster is a film that, like a powerful sex toy, provides climax after climax, each leading onto the next, to assemble a feature that clocks in at a lean 101 minutes, and has a fairly uncomplicated, singular, and even somewhat brief peak, is actually kind of daring. I didn't like it as much as I enjoyed Francis Lawrence's previous feature, Constantine (which remains a huge guilty pleasure), but it's so good at what it does that I can accord it nothing but respect. It's more of a remake of The Omega Man than it is an adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel (anyone who tells you that the ending follows Matheson has obviously not read the book), but this really doesn't matter much (the novel is nowhere near as good as Matheson's Hell House, anyhow).

One element of the politics of the film that I find odd: in exactly the same way that 28 Days Later updated the concept of the zombie, the "vampires" of Matheson and The Omega Man have been replaced by the inhuman "infected," which is how they're referred to in the end titles. There's something vaguely disturbing about a climate where being monstrous and inhuman is seen as a matter of whether or not you've contracted a disease, and where having contracted this disease is enough to completely transform you - where the barrier between the human and the inhuman is so terribly fragile (bizarrely, the vampires of The Omega Man and Matheson - and probably the Vincent Price film as well, tho' I don't remember it very clearly - were more human than the "infected" are here; they could talk, think, plan, whereas in I Am Legend, they're defined almost entirely by their vicious rage). A friend suggested over a meal today that the designation of the monstrous as infected probably stems from AIDS paranoia, but I'm not so sure that's what's going on; there's also a "humanization" of the monstrous that seems to be afoot - a growing recognition that human beings are a lot scarier than, say, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, or any other quaint critters of yore (The Mist is interesting in this regard, too, since, for all the tentacles and claws that abound, the people in it eclipse the monsters as the primary source of fear). If you aren't infected, you're either immune, a carrier, or in danger of contracting the condition; in which case we must be ever vigilant, lest we become monsters ourselves. Not sure what to make of it, but it's a trend that bears following... viruses seem to have overtaken the occult as the source of world evil!

No comments: