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Robert Neville (Will Smith) is a brilliant scientist, but even he could not contain the terrible virus that was unstoppable, incurable and manmade. Somehow immune, Neville is now the last human survivor in what is left of New York City and maybe the world. But he is not alone. He is surrounded by the Infected's victims of the plague who have mutated into carnivorous beings who can only exist in the dark and who will devour or infect anyone or anything in their path. For three years, Neville has spent his days scavenging for food and supplies and faithfully sending out radio messages, desperate to find any other survivors who might be out there. All the while, the Infected lurk in the shadows, watching Neville's every move, waiting for him to make a fatal mistake. Perhaps mankind's last, best hope, Neville is driven by only one remaining mission: to find a way to reverse the effects of the virus using his own immune blood. But his blood is also what The Infected hunt, and Neville knows he is outnumbered and quickly running out of time.
The following is an old review of a VERY early draft of the script currently being used on the film. I reviewed it long before the current movie finally went into production, after the script spent years kicking around Hollywood without getting made. This is a review of what I am Legend could be, not necessarily what it will be. Take it for what it is: an artifact.
I'm always hesitant to engage in script reviews. Mostly, I'm terrified of ruining a perfectly good movie for myself by reading ahead to the end. But sometimes something comes along that's just SO good that I simply can't put it down. This time, I've gotten my hands on the first draft of Mark Protosevich's I Am Legend' a movie struggling to be made and spending far to much time on some miscellaneous director's shelf.
Imagine an Arnie movie in which each night after fighting hordes of zombie-like bad guys, Arnold collapses into a corner hugging his dog and crying' no, scratch that, he's WEEPING for the world that he has lost and what he has been forced to become. A zombie movie where the zombie's aren't mindless dead crazies, but thinking, living people who were once your neighbors, your students, your wife. A post-apocalyptic movie that does NOT star Kevin Costner. An after-civilization movie where the laws of right and wrong, civilization and barbarism have been blurred to make you question your own life's priorities.
I Am Legend is the story of Robert Neville, the last man in San Francisco. Perhaps even the last man on earth. Ravaged by a human-made, blood-altering virus, the entire earth has been demolished, destroyed, burnt into barbarism. Most of the population was killed in the initial years of rampaging insanity and civil unrest as nearly the entire world was infected with disease and changed into blood hungering, physically superior, angrily destructive beings bringing death to anyone normal that remained. Somehow, Robert Neville survived. Alone, he turned his home into an impenetrable fortress, defending it for years on end against endless attacks by the now mutated human creatures called Hemocytes.
Like vampires, they hunger for blood and are injured by light. But vampires they are not. The Hemocytes are an entirely new breed of human. Their skin is pale and nearly transparent, their bodies nearly perfect physical specimens, they stalk the night seeking blood anywhere they can find it. Some in groups, some alone. Still Neville searches for those like him who may have survived. Every day, by the sun's brightest light he searches, hopes, and fails.
I Am Legend is an ass kicker of an action movie, let there be no doubt. Yet this isn't a movie about slaughtering murderous monsters with joyous abandon. At every step it's somehow deeply emotional, moving, and harshly intelligent. I've never seen any 'action' movie that went so far out of its way to so painfully connect in an empathic way in its audience.
Legend is based on the book by Richard Matheson, which has already made it onto film two times before in the 1964 film, The Last Man on Earth and in 1971 film Omega Man, featuring Charleton Heston. Omega Man itself was a decent enough sci-fi endeavor for Chuck Heston back when he was a movie icon and not just a crazy old coot with a gun. The lead character's name is the same and the plot is similar enough to ring bells, but I'd rather ignore Omega Man's existence, since it inevitably PALES in comparison to what screenwriter Mark Protosevich has created here.
The problem here is that I Am Legend wandered around in development hell for a very long time. Sure, it impressed a lot of people, but beyond getting Protosevich more exciting work, (he is currently writing John Carter of Mars) it has languished without prospect. Originally, Arnie worked on it with Ridley Scott. But at some point that all fell apart. I can't say I'm disappointed. While Arnold might embody some of the aspects important to the character, his physical prowess for example, he lacks the subtlety to play this type of layered, battered, emotional character.
Now Legend is again on the move, though the people involved are now even less desirable. Will Smith is tagged for a lead role in the project. Smith is also TOTALLY wrong for this, even though with Ali he proved he can act. But Smith is too cocky, too upbeat for this sort of thing. I Am Legend is a bittersweet and sad script about a truly tortured and lonely man. Smith, like Arnold, has done little to evidence any ability towards playing this type of internalized character. Even if he could, audiences so identify with his 'cocky' persona, that stepping in as such a broken and battered individual would be an uphill battle in the eyes of public perception.
I shouldn't complain. At least the script is going somewhere! I Am Legend starring Will Smith is better than I Am Legend - the coffee-stained coaster. Keep your eyes open for this one to hit theaters in 2007 rated R and sporting a Will Smith style. With an AMAZING script like this, I Am Legend will be hard for anyone to screw up.