Friday, December 14, 2007


RUNTIME: 101 min
RATING: ***1/2

George Romero carved a sub-genre all by himself when he made the mother-of-all-zombie films Night of the Living Dead. The film was actually inspired from Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend (the source here), a work which depicts its infected ‘humans’ as that other dreaded name in my list of ‘Night creatures to be avoided to maintain sanity’ – vampires. With the latest addition to the jumbo-budgeted studio-produced titles I Am Legend completes the circle, more so than Heston’s version The Omega Man, in proving that vampires and zombies are in fact siblings, more so than their third distant cousin, the werewolf. If in the process, I Am Legend manages to try and restore some level of intelligence to the nightly-creatures’ proceedings, it is by no means a minor achievement considering the love-hate audiences harbor for them. I have always believed that Zombies and Vampires can hardly ever make a decent picture without ever asking us to suspend our belief down a high tensile strength titanium cord, and even then they end up being cheesy. I Am Legend manages to suck the corny horror element of the genre, down to its last drop, and presents us a filtered, somewhat sophisticated sci-fi horror picture. A picture that is surprisingly thoughtful and dramatic, despite the zombies whose presence I just cannot stress enough.
As I was driving home late last night, I encountered the usual lions-of-the-night dogs barking and pursuing my vehicle with all the madness they could muster. Four in all, and save for their barking it was dead silent in the middle of the night. Something possessed me and I stopped, about turned and started pursuing those dogs, maybe trying to give them a taste of their own medicine. They stopped at a dead end and I, with my false notion of haughty courage, squared off with the four of them, their eyes shining in my headlights. The only sound then, the silent hum of the engine. Me, warm and cozy within the locked-from-all-sides confines, and them out in the cold amidst the silence of the night.
I intend to share this crazy little incident because the opening sequences capture that strange blend of oneness and conflict with nature with eerie precision. There have been countless multi-million dollar productions that have given us a glimpse of a post-apocalyptic major familiar city, but none captures the loneliness of the last man on earth it as well as this film. 28 Days later had a similar sequence, a breathtaking one, but i would like to ask Danny Boyle one day why he chose to punctuate (I initially thought of ‘pollute’) it with a MTV- soundtrack. Silence is golden and that is a golden rule. Music of any kind intends to evoke feelings in us and the lack of it, often, is what achieves supreme results. 2001 opens with images of nature, with pin-drop silence. That is when the awe factor comes in.
I Am legend tells the story of a brilliant biologist Robert Neville (Smith) who also happens to be the last survivor of a deadly virus that has wiped of the civilization. He is supposed to be inexplicably immune (you know the drill). He hunts in the day, along with is K-9 partner Samantha, waiting ever so eagerly for humans to turn up. In the night though, he hides from the infected humans (mutants of Zombies and Vampires) in his home, which he calls Ground Zero. He is the king and the subject of New York City, and he dutifully uses its resources. And that includes DVDs from your local outlet. Boy, I wish I was the last man on earth.
This is Smith’s Cast Away and he plays a big part in conveying the psychological and emotional turmoil of the character. His Neville tries his best to keep his sanity in this most hopeless of situation. But I was confused, logically. Neville seems to be a strange mixture of hope and despair. He speaks of Bob Marley and the attempt on his life in December’ 76, and his fight against all the evil that is human-created. Yet he refuses to consider, even for a single moment, that there could be un-infected humans under a safe haven. He names his place Ground Zero for he’s hoping to bring a vaccine to cure the infected, yet he doesn’t believe in God. He has been alone for three years so much so that he thinks of mannequins as live forms. Yet he doesn’t harbor any sexual intentions when the time comes. This construct of the character, and these odd contradictions, aren’t out of real-life but borne out of a writer’s scheme of things. But then, how else can it be? They manage to rope in Emma Thompson for the briefest of moments, and I liked her momentary presence. It was pleasant.
This is a well constructed film. All the sequences, horror, thrilling, dramatic, are given the kind of treatments they deserve. Almost all the attempts, technical, are pulled off with success. The film harbors the fear of the infected, but it never attempts to create its own reason for the scare. It rather uses the latent fear of the unknown wild organism (aliens, zombies, vampires) that has been grown over horror-genre’s history and tries to downplay the alarming nature of these events. In most other films, such an encounter is the film’s high point with regards to tension. Here, there seems to be a nonchalant air about it, as if it is just a part and parcel of daily life.
What worries me about I Am Legend though is about the infected people, and the treatment. This film obviously wants to break the zombie-shackles (28 Days Later), but why doesn’t it try to understand its antagonists a little more. They are almost always alien. And unfortunately, more so considering the big-budget, they come across as cartoon-ish thanks to CGI. It hurts the eye, for they seem to be elements of fantasy when the film demands real elements. They scream and jump around like mummies, each one of them seemingly in a contest to open the widest mouth and the loudest scream. Go the full distance, put some thought for them and this could have been a masterpiece of post-apocalyptic science fiction. And it wouldn’t even have required the add expenses of the CGI to construct those damn effect-laden creatures; rather going the real way of the countless zombie films could have actually sealed the deal. Somebody once said about picking the best things from everything around. Here was an opportunity to follow the wise saying. Not following it has resulted in this very definition of a mixed bag. I guess, intellectually and dramatically, this is just about as far a zombie film funded in hundreds of millions by studio executives can get from the genre conventions

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