At five, Leonardo DiCaprio appeared on his favorite TV show "Romper Room" and was nearly kicked off for uncontrollable behavior. (IMDB)
I Am Legend, the new movie starring Will Smith, is in some ways an old movie.
First, it is the third version of the movie based on the novel of the same name written by Richard Matheson. The first two films were The Last Man on Earth in 1964 and The Omega Man in 1971.
Smith portrays Robert Neville, a military scientist struggling to find a cure for a horrific disease. The disease, accidentally created when a cure for cancer goes wrong, kills 90% of its victims. The remainder turn into vicious creatures with an aversion to light, "Dark Seekers," essentially vampires. These vampires have hunted down all those not infected, to the point where Nevill may now be the last man on earth.
Neville spends his days cruising around a deserted and overgrown Manhattan, hunting deere that now run wild in the streets, practicing his long drive, and looking for nests of Dark Seekers. He needs Dark Seekers to test the antidotes he's been developing from his own immune blood.
The film presents a superb balance of action and heart-rending character development and, as usual, Will Smith delivers his role with finesse. We can feel his grief as he remembers his wife and child, killed when the government orders a military quarantine of New York. We share his anguish when he's forced to kill his only companion, his faithful and gentle dog who's become infected by the disease and is changing into a rabid beast. And his terror is palpable when he finds and almost becomes trapped in a nest of Dark Seekers.
The scenes with the Dark Seekers are suitably scary. These creatures move fast and come in hoards. Although they initially seem to have lost their higher mental faculties, some of them are beginning to display a logic and reason that makes them all the more dangerous. While the book by Matheson apparently develops this idea, the movie only lightly touches on it.
Considering the theme, there's only minimal violence, virtually none of it gory. There's no swearing and no sex. A lesser movie would have found plenty of opportunities for all three. It's in this way that I Am Legend also resembles an older movie, from a time when producers understood that some things are better left to the imagination.
The only real letdown is the ending. Without giving too much away we'll just say that a happier ending would have been nice. Either way, there's room for a sequel.
Random Notions rating: 4 out of 5