First things first: I avoided I am Legend as long as I could. Inasmuch as my local video store was stocked to the gills with this release, I decided to give the disk a spin and see what all the hubbub was about.
Make no mistake, this recent adaptation of Richard Matheson's novella of the same name, tweaks the basic story and its premise to such a degree that basically what we've got here is a combination of Dawn of the Dead (2004) meets 28 Days Later. Gone are the human-like blood suckers that taunt the hero all night by calling out his name and throwing rocks at his door; and in their place are CGI beasties who can leap tall buildings in a single bound and run faster than Flo Jo during the 1988 Olympics.
Gone also is the Southern California suburban setting, replaced this time with New York City(props to the special effects folks for turning Gotham into a wasteland over run with deer and packs of lions).
Of course, the star of this film is Mr. Will Smith. The former Fresh Prince, actually delivers a fantastic performance as a driven, slightly mad, scientist who is trying to contact survivors, find a cure for the disease that has turned most of mankind into horror movie monsters, and keep some semblance of a normal life (mad props to whomever decided to show Will working out shirtless in a glorious close up - yowza!). Yup, Smith turns in a great performance that, for the most part, is a series of acting against special effects, mannequins, and a German shepherd.
About that pooch; Sam, short for Samantha (played by Abby, and Kona - as the young Sam) is Smith's best friend, confidant, roommate and traveling companion. Damn, but this bitch (female dog, nothing derogatory meant) all but steals every scene she is in. On more than one occasion, it seems that she might rip the movie right from Smith's hands and run off with it.
Unfortunately, after the first hour or so of I am Legend, when the super vampire things show up, the movie kind of falls apart. What should be a series of gut-punches turns into a poorly executed collection of computer animated cartoon characters that, for me at least, ruined everything.
For fans of the original work the disappointments might be, well, legendary; the vampire trappings are mostly gone. With the exception of sunlight, these creatures don't seem affected by holy water, garlic and crucifixes. Furthermore, while a handful of them seem to have some sort of intelligence, for the most part they just charge and growl in packs. Furthermore, when you get to the end of the film, one discovers that the very title of the story has been bastardized to meet the screen-writer's goal.
Is it worth the rental fee? Sure. Like I said, the first hour is pretty good, almost perfect in fact. And Will Smith proves himself to be a good actor (something a lot of us have forgot - how long has it been since Six Degrees of Separation?) But make no mistake about it. If you are at all familiar with the source work, you'll find I am Legend has pretty much gone to the dogs.