Finally managed to catch up with I Am Legend yesterday and was pleasantly surprised. The first third, with Will Smith and his dog alone in New York, was compelling, powerful, and downright scary at times. Then the CGI vampires turned up. And even though they weren't quite as bad as I'd been led to believe, they simply didn't have any real presence or, more importantly, a sense of character which is crucial to the Richard Mathieson novel the film's based on. They even changed the ending, so that the essential meaning of the title (ie. why he's a legend) was radically altered. Still, I was gripped pretty much from start to finish, and for a Hollywood blockbuster it was remarkably bleak.
The site of a desolate, silent, overgrown New York was tremendously affecting; the scene with the vampire dogs was expertly staged; and the first glimpse of the vampires feeding on the deer in the dark was a brilliant BOO moment. I also loved the background detailing: the Van Goghs' lining the walls of Smith's Washington Square brownstone, clearly taken from the Met; the billboard for the Batman/Superman movie in Times Square which gave a 2010 release date... (How I wish.) I was clearly in a post apocalyptic frame of mind yesterday, having watched the first film adaptation of Mathieson's novel, the Vincent Price-starrer The Last Man On Earth just prior to seeing the Smith film (along with Ray Milland's nuclear terror movie Panic In Year Zero, I might add). Both versions have their weaknesses and flaws, and both fail to fully capture the book. Less of an action movie than the recent film (which has helicopters crashing and fast cars tearing down Manhattan avenues), the Italian-shot The Last Man On Earth features yet another great tortured Vincent Price performance and is wonderfully downbeat, something Smith's film adheres to quite faithfully until the rather unnecessary happy ending. (I know there's a third film version, the Charlton Heston-starrer The Omega Man but I haven't seen it; or at least I don't remember seeing it.)