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Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00
Local opening date: December 14, 2007
Reviewed by Diane Carson
For good reasons and for centuries, we've considered with hope and caution what science achieves. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein warns about scientific arrogance and unpredictable results; 1950s science fiction films had a field day with nuclear disasters. In that period, 1954, novelist Richard Matheson's I Am Legend found terror in a virus, a fear that certainly resonates today.

In the third movie inspired by Matheson's writing, I Am Legend is relocated to New York and one known, healthy survivor of a virus that has decimated the world population. Scientist Richard Neville is inexplicably immune. Hoping to find a cure for the savage dark seekers who survive in underground locations, Neville uses his own blood in experiments with ferocious rats and periodically captured subjects, hoping to find a cure. But the outstanding feature of an uneven film is Will Smith's phenomenal performance.

For the majority of the film, Will Smith, who plays Richard Neville, holds the screen alone, save for his German Shepherd companion Samantha. Smith proves again what a charismatic actor he is with an impressive range of emotions. He's the husband and father who must say good-bye to his wife and daughter as they're evacuated from New York; he's the determined scientist evaluating lab animals' responses; he's the hunter tracing food and the defender of his and his dog's life; he's the hoping-against-hope isolated man. And he segues through the film's uneven shifts from horror film to science fiction warning to melodrama with a totally deus-ex-machina woman who credits God for chances of survival against all evidence in the story. It's ironic and offensive that while The Golden Compass has been unfairly attacked for attacks on religion, where there are none, that it is so arbitrarily tacked on here without comment.

Director Francis Lawrence and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie crank up the action with loud, quickly edited attacks. But the best scenes are the ones of silence and calm when the tension builds much more dramatically without the pummeling with sound effects. I Am Legend is an uneven mixture of horror and science fiction, action and suspense. It is an acting tour-de-force by Will Smith, but it is not for children, though rated PG-13. At area cinemas.

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