I Am Legend (DVD & Blu-ray)

I Am Legend marks the third kick at the film can for Matheson’s 1954 novel about the lone survivor of a global pandemic that has transformed humanity into a horde of vampires. Originally brought to the screen in 1964 under the title The Last Man on Earth, with Vincent Price in the lead role, the movie was remade in 1971 as The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, and now gets another pass as a starring vehicle for Will Smith. While none of the versions actually get Matheson’s apocalyptic fable right, this latest incarnation is probably the best of the bunch, the result in large part to some impressive and atmospheric CGI, decent acting on the part of Smith and a german shepherd that practically steals the movie.

Directed by relative newcomer Francis Lawrence, whose only significant prior helming credits include the tepid Keanu Reeves demon flick Constantine and a series of Britney Spears and J-Lo videos, Legend manages to ramp up the cringe factor by turning every darkened building, corridor and stairwell into places of unspeakable dread, for while daylight manages to hold the vampirish mutants at bay, there’s nothing stopping them from holding court in dark corners. Set three years after the genetic manipulation of the measles virus into a cure for cancer has run amok — the virus itself mutating in horrific and unforeseen ways — Smith’s Robert Neville, a top flight military scientist, remains alone at “ground zero”, barricaded in a fortified home complete with basement laboratory from which he whiles away his days conducting experiments on rats and captured human mutants in a desperate attempt to find a cure. His only companion in this lonely existence is a dog named Samantha whom he leans on to hold isolation-induced insanity in check.

While increasingly the efforts of computer generated effects are poured into the realisation of unworldly creatures and spectacular explosions — of which Legend has its share — it’s in the transformation of Manhattan into a moonscape of abandoned vehicles and buildings, slowly succumbing to reclamation by nature, that the computer wizards behind this film really deserve credit. As tales of the apocalypse go, Legend falls short of filling the ample shoes of such previous entries such as 28 Days Later and even the 2004 revisioning of Dawn of the Dead, but its capable packaging of creepy dread, coupled with a great performance by Smith as a lonely man struggling to be the lone voice of humanity, all topped off by more than capable effects make this a popcorn film not to be missed.

DVD

EXTRAS ** Nothing too exciting. There's an alternative ending on the second disc (which comes with a complete second copy of the film, which seems a little pointless), 4 animated comics, a documentary about viruses and web links to a site with some behind-the-scenes material, which makes you wonder why they didn't just put it on the DVD? There's no commentary or deleted scenes or making-of stuff at all.BLU-RAY

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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