Friday, December 14, 2007

I Am Legend is a 2007 American post-apocalyptic science fiction horror film

I Am Legend is a 2007 American post-apocalyptic science fiction horror film directed by Francis Lawrence and starring Will Smith. It is the fourth film adaptation of Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend; following 1964's The Last Man on Earth, 1971's The Omega Man and 2007 direct-to-video I Am Omega. Smith plays Robert Neville, possibly Earth's only survivor of a man-made virus. He works to create a cure but is stalked by nocturnal mutant survivors of the plague.

Warner Bros. Pictures began developing I Am Legend in 1994, and various actors and directors were attached to the project, though it did not enter production due to budgetary concerns. I Am Legend entered production in 2006 in New York City, filming mainly on location in the city including a $5 million scene at the Brooklyn Bridge, the most expensive scene filmed in the city to date. For the film, Warner Bros. launched a tie-in comic and an online multiplayer game on Second Life as part of its marketing campaign. I Am Legend was released December 14, 2007 in the United States.Contents [hide]

Plot

A Man-made Virus called KV, originally created as a cancer vaccine, wipes out the population of New York City in 2009, leaving virologist Robert Neville (Will Smith) the last human survivor in the city and possibly the world. Neville lives alone with his dog for three years, attempting to contact and find other possible survivors. He is watched by nocturnal mutant victims of the plague. The virus instantly killed 90% of the people on the planet, roughly 5.4 billion. Less than 1% of humans are immune, which Neville theorizes would leave roughly 12 million people immune. The remaining 588 million people were infected but did not die, instead losing all normal human behavior and degenerating into a primal state driven by cannibalistic hunger. Sunlight kills the infected, so they hide in the dark underground and in buildings then swarm out at night. By three years after the plague swept the globe, Neville has not seen another normal human being for years and suspects that the infected have succeeded in killing the remainder of the survivors in the New York City area and possibly the entire world. Neville finds himself outnumbered by the infected and running out of time.

Neville is also haunted by the intense psychological trauma not only of having everyone he ever knew die, but physically being completely isolated from all human contact for three years, with his only companions being his dog and various department store dummies he has set up and assigned names. The total isolation has begun to take its toll on Neville's mind, with his sanity nearly at the breaking point. Multiple times throughout the narrative, Neville witnesses semi-surreal events which it is not clear are indeed real or if Neville has simply begun to hallucinate. After meeting two other survivors and developing a cure for the plague, he sacrifices himself so the other two immune humans can escape. They eventually travel to an isolated community of survivors. Neville's heroism, creating a cure and allowing others to escape the infected, leads to him becoming a legend, hence the title of the movie.

Production

Development

In 1994, Warner Bros. began developing the film project, having owned the rights to Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend since 1970.[3] In June 1997, director Ridley Scott and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger entered talks with Warner Bros. for I Am Legend, based on a script by Mark Protosevich. Actors Tom Cruise and Michael Douglas were previously considered to star in the film.[4] The following July, Scott and Schwarzenegger finalized negotiations with the studio.[5] Production slated to begin the coming September,[4] with Houston as a stand-in for the film's setting of Los Angeles.[6] In December 1997, the project was called into question when the projected budget escalated to $108 million due to media and shareholder scrutiny of the studio in financing a big-budget film.[7] Scott rewrote the script in an attempt to reduce the film's budget[8] by $20 million, but in March 1998, the studio canceled the project due to continued budgetary concerns.[9] In August 1998, director Rob Bowman was attached to I Am Legend,[10] but he moved on to direct Reign of Fire.[11]

In March 2002, Schwarzenegger became the producer of I Am Legend, commencing negotiations with Michael Bay to direct and Will Smith to star in the film. Bay and Smith were attracted to the project based on a redraft that would reduce its budget.[12] However, the project was shelved due to Warner Bros. president Alan F. Horn's dislike of the script.[13] In 2004, Akiva Goldsman was asked by head of production Jeff Robinov to produce the project.[14] In September 2005, director Francis Lawrence signed on to helm the project, with production slated to begin in 2006.[15] Guillermo del Toro was also approached to direct.[16] Lawrence, whose film Constantine was produced by Goldsman, was fascinated by empty urban environments. He said, "Something's always really excited me about that... to have experienced that much loss, to be without people or any kind of social interaction for that long."[14]

Goldsman rewrote the screenplay to be closer to the second I Am Legend film adaptation, The Omega Man, of which he was a major fan.[17] The rewrite was also done to distance the film from the numerous zombie films inspired by the novel.[16] A forty-page scene-by-scene outline of the film was developed by May 2006. When delays occurred on Will Smith's film Hancock (2008), which was scheduled for 2007, it was proposed to switch the actor's films. This meant filming would have to begin in sixteen weeks: production was greenlit, using Goldsman's script and the outline.[14] Elements from Protosevich's script were introduced, while the crew consulted with experts on infectious diseases and solitary confinement.[17] Rewrites continued throughout filming, because of Smith's improvisational skills and Lawrence's preference to keep various scenes silent.[14] The director had watched The Piano with a low volume so as to not disturb his newborn son, and realized that silence could be very effective cinema.[18]

Casting

Will Smith signed on to play Robert Neville in April 2006.[19] He said he took on I Am Legend because he felt it could be like "Gladiator [or] Forrest Gump - these are movies with wonderful, audience-pleasing elements but also uncompromised artistic value. [This] always felt like it had those possibilities to me."[17] The actor found Neville to be his toughest acting challenge since portraying Muhammad Ali in Ali (2001). He said that "when you're on your own, it is kind of hard to find conflict." The film's dark tone and exploration of whether Neville has gone insane during his isolation meant Smith had to restrain himself from falling into a humorous routine during takes.[20] To prepare for his role, Smith visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Georgia. He also met with a person who had been in solitary confinement and a former prisoner of war.[21] Smith compared Neville to Job, who lost his children, livelihood and health. Like the Book of Job, I Am Legend studies the questions, "Can he find a reason to continue? Can he find the hope or desire to excel and advance in life? Or does the death of everything around him create imminent death for himself?"[16] He also cited an influence in Tom Hanks' performance in Cast Away (2000).[17]

Abbey, a three-year-old German Shepherd, played Neville's dog. Another dog was used for scenes where Neville plays fetch with his companion, as Abbey refused to perform these scenes.[22] The rest of the supporting cast consists of Salli Richardson as Ginny, Robert's wife,[23] and Alice Braga as a character named Anna.[23] Willow Smith, Will Smith's daughter, makes her film debut as Marley, Neville's daughter.[24] Emma Thompson has an uncredited role as a doctor on television, explaining the vaccine for cancer that mutates into the virus.[25]

Filming
The Brooklyn Bridge served as a location in I Am Legend, at which there was a $5 million scene filmed, the most expensive scene to date in New York City.

Akiva Goldsman decided to move the story from Los Angeles to New York City to take advantage of locations that would more easily show emptiness.[3] Goldsman explained, "L.A. looks empty at three o'clock in the afternoon, [but] New York is never empty... it was a much more interesting way of showing the windswept emptiness of the world."[20] Warner Brothers initially rejected this idea because of the logistics,[14] but Francis Lawrence was determined to shoot on location, to give the film a natural feel that would not benefit from shooting on soundstages. Lawrence went to the city with a camcorder, and filmed areas filled with crowds. Then, a special effects test was conducted to remove all those people. The test had a powerful effect on studio executives.[18] Michael Tadross convinced authorities to close busy areas such as the Grand Central Terminal viaduct, several blocks of Fifth Avenue and Washington Square Park.[14]

Filming began on September 23, 2006.[26] The Marcy Avenue Armory in Williamsburg was used for the interior of Neville's home,[20] while Greenwich Village was used for the exterior.[16] Other locations including the Tribeca section of Lower Manhattan, the aircraft carrier Intrepid, the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx and St. Paul's Cathedral.[3] Weeds were imported from Florida and were strewn across locations to make the city look like it had overgrown with them.[14] The closure of major streets was controversial with New Yorkers. Will Smith said, "I don't think anyone's going to be able to do that in New York again any time soon. People were not happy. That's the most middle fingers I've ever gotten in my career."[16]

A bridge scene was filmed for six consecutive nights in January on the Brooklyn Bridge to serve as a flashback scene in which New York's denizens evacuate the city. Shooting the scene cost the studio $5 million, which was the most expensive shot in the city to date. The scene, which had to meet requirements from fourteen government agencies, involved 250 crew members and 1,000 extras, including 160 National Guard members.[27] Also present were several Humvees, three Stryker armored vehicles, a 110-foot cutter, a 41-foot utility boat, and two 25-foot Response Boat Small craft.[2] Filming concluded on March 31, 2007.[26]

Reshoots were conducted around November 2007. Lawrence noted, "We weren't seeing fully-rendered shots until about a month ago. The movie starts to take on a whole other life. It's not only until later that you can judge a movie as a whole and go, 'Huh, maybe we should shoot this little piece in the middle, or tweak this a little bit.' It just so happened that our re-shoots revolved around the end of the movie."[28]

Effects

A week into filming, Francis Lawrence felt the infected, who were being portrayed with actors wearing prosthetics, were not convincing. His decision to use computer-generated imagery meant post-production had to be extended and the budget increased. Lawrence explained, "They needed to have an abandon in their performance that you just can't get out of people in the middle of the night when they're barefoot. And their metabolisms are really spiked, so they're constantly hyperventilating, which you can't really get actors to do for a long time or they pass out."[14] While the infected become vampires in the novel, the film depicts them as "dark seekers" (Neville's term for them)[17] who consume living flesh, with a design inspired by the concept of their adrenal glands being open all the time. The actors remained on set as a guide, but were replaced by CGI.[20]

In addition, CGI was used for the lions and deer in the film, and to erase pedestrians in shots of New York. Workers visible in windows, spectators and moving cars in the distance were all removed. In his vision of an empty New York, Lawrence cited John Ford as his influence: "We didn't want to make an apocalyptic movie where the landscape felt apocalyptic. A lot of the movie takes place on a beautiful day. There's something magical about the empty city as opposed to dark and scary."[17]

Release

I Am Legend was originally slated for a November 21, 2007 release in the United States and Canada,[29] but was delayed to December 14, 2007.[30]. The film will open on December 26, 2007 in the United Kingdom,[31] having been originally scheduled for January 4, 2008.[20]

In December 2007, China banned the release of American films in the country,[32] which is believed to have delayed the release of I Am Legend. Will Smith spoke to the chairman of China Film Group about securing a release date, later explaining, "We struggled very, very hard to try to get it to work out, but there are only a certain amount of foreign films that are allowed in."[21]

Marketing

A tie-in comic from DC Comics and Vertigo Comics will be released with I Am Legend. The project draws upon collaboration from Bill Sienkiewicz, screenwriter Mark Protosevich, and author Orson Scott Card. The son of the original book's author, Richard Christian Matheson, also collaborated on the project. The project will advance from the comic to an online format in which animated featurettes will be shown on the official website. The comic is due out in November.[33]

In October 2007, Warner Bros. Pictures launched the online multiplayer game I Am Legend: Survival in the virtual world Second Life. The game is the largest launched in the virtual world in support of a film release, permitting people to play against each other as the infected or the uninfected across a replicated 60 acres of New York City.[34] The studio also hired the ad agency Crew Creative to develop a website that would be specifically viewable on Apple's iPhone.[35]

Reception

On Rotten Tomatoes, 60% of one hundred and two reviews listed were positive, with an average score of 6/10.[36] On Metacritic, the film earned a score of 67%, earning a "generally favorable" rating from twenty-six reviews.[37]

A. O. Scott felt Will Smith gave a "graceful and effortless performance", and also noted the "third-act collapse". He felt the movie "does ponder some pretty deep questions about the collapse and persistence of human civilization".[38] Dana Stevens of Slate felt the movie loses its way around the hour mark, as "the Infected just aren't that scary."[25]

Sequel

The original screenwriter of I Am Legend, Mark Protosevich, pitched the idea of a sequel to Warner Bros., though a deal has not been finalized.[39]

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