Friday, December 28, 2007

I Am Legend: The Dog Always Gets The Short End of the Stick

There seems to be some kind of universal rule in movie-making where if a dog is featured in a storyline as the best-friend/loyal companion of a main character, something awful will happen to it.* That should tell you just about everything you need to know about I Am Legend, a movie I saw two days ago (not my selection).

I think the problems with I Am Legend can be summed up by three major flaws.

(1) I Am Legend is a zombie movie. Zombie movies can only be good if they abandon all hope of serious movie making and either descend into camp or play it like a straight blockbuster/thriller style movie (like 28 Days Later). I Am Legend does neither of these things. Through the first half of the movie, it attempts to be a "serious" film and explore the mental issues that the main character has after living entirely alone (with the exception of his faithful pup Sam). Robert Neville (played by Will Smith) spend much of the first hour wandering around Manhattan conversing with his dog and mannequins that he's set up around the city. While these scenes are supposed to be poignant, they end up being merely laughable.

(2) About halfway through, there is an abrupt transition between being a "serious" film and being an action/thriller. There are explosions. There are roaring albino zombies. There is gunfire. It has nothing to do with the first half of the movie.

(3) Will Smith can be a serious actor given the right script. While I didn't love The Pursuit of Happyness as a film, Will Smith was very good in it. But this is a bad script, and while Smith does the best he can with it, there is only so much one man can do. In the first thirty minutes, Smith tells his puppy dog to be careful, because he's not immune to the contact version of the virus. I'm surprised a little banner with the word "foreshadowing" didn't unfurl across the bottom of the screen.

The more I think about it, the less I liked it.

* This rule is null and void if the dog has a humanlike ability to communicate via voice overs (i.e. Dr. Doolitte or the Incredible Journey) or via the ability to communicate complex information through a stream of woofs (i.e. Lassie).

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