I Am Legend: Special Edition

21 Feb

Will-Smith.jpg

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

SPOILER WARNING! If I’m going to review the “I Am Legend” special-edition version, which includes the “controversial” alternate ending (I use quotations for that term because the DVD cover describes it as such), I have to talk about said-“controversial” ending.

I reviewed the 2007 thriller/drama “I Am Legend,” starring Will Smith and based on the Richard Matheson novel, before. I praised most of it (giving it the same three-and-a-half star rating I give to this “Special Edition”), but I did admit the third act was nothing special, especially when in comparison to the preceding two acts. I wrote, “the movie runs on autopilot for its final act, unfortunately. The climax of the movie is just your standard monster-attacking-the-house climax where characters are forced to fight off the enemy, nearly get caught, find some way to fight back—you name it, you got it. The outcome is less than satisfactory. It’s forced.”

I saw the film for the first time in 2007, when it was released. (Also, I wrote the review in 2012, if you were wondering.) I was 15 when I first saw it, and even back then, as a dumb teenage boy who was hungry for destruction in cinema, I noticed the film didn’t end the same way it began. The first two acts of “I Am Legend” weren’t about typical action or horror-movie tropes—it was mostly quiet, with thought-provoking scenes of drama and some carefully-chosen lines of dialogue when discussing the implications of the antagonists’ nature (the antagonists, of course, being the infected sunlight-fearing zombies that take up New York City).

And then the film ends with Will Smith blowing up the “monsters” as well as himself, sacrificing his life to protect the antidote that can reverse the process that turned everyday, ordinary people into this different kind of species… Even as a teenage moviegoer, I wasn’t that enthralled by the film’s resolution.

I’m unsure if I need to remind readers of the plot synopsis of “I Am Legend,” but I’ll attempt to sum it up anyway. Dr. Robert Neville (Smith) is the lone survivor of a plague that wiped out New York City three years before. With no outside communication and the plague reaching out even further, Neville may be the last man on Earth, with only one companion: a loyal dog named Sam. Immune to the virus that killed and/or transformed the infected into predatory zombie-like creatures, Neville spends his days trying to develop an antidote. When times get to be too psychologically anguishing for him, as he seemingly gets nowhere with the experiments, he is suddenly visited by two human survivors, a woman (Alice Braga) and a young boy (Charlie Tahan) who are headed to where they believe a “survivor’s colony” resides outside the island.

Right around this point, “I Am Legend” should be getting more interesting, as issues such as faith and survivor’s guilt are mentioned and discussed in a couple effective moments that are much deserved after numerous quiet, suspenseful scenes with Will Smith alone. But before it can get too deep, the characters are attacked by the creatures that storm Neville’s house. This is where we get the disappointing final act in which it simply doesn’t feel like much is accomplished, despite Neville presumably destroying them all (and sacrificing himself in the process, so that the woman and child can go free with the antidote that ultimately results). It didn’t feel like the right conclusion for such a strong film like this to truly end with.

But I kept saying the film was good, despite a disappointing ending, mainly because everything leading up to it done so effectively. And then…I was told about the original ending. That was when I started to look at the film (and the studio that released it in 2007) in a different (read “negative”) way. The film was treating me, a teenage moviegoer in 2007, with respect and intelligence—no loud violent action sequences, a great deal of silence in both the dramatic moments and the suspenseful moments, and profound issues to be discussed. And then, it decided I needed something I had already seen before in an action-filled climax. That didn’t tick me off so much; what does tick me off today is that if it was released with the original ending, it would’ve given me something even deeper and more profound to ponder long after it was over. That was when I realized that the film I saw in the theater treated me like a thinking adult until the final act, and I want to say “screw you” to whoever made the decision to make such a drastic change.

So, what is the original ending? The ending that would’ve changed everything? The ending that was kept in the “Special Edition” DVD/Blu-Ray release to deliver a more satisfying “I Am Legend”? The ending that gives “I Am Legend” the three-and-a-half star rating on Smith’s Verdict that it truly deserves? Let’s talk about it…

In a clever use of non-verbal communication, the alpha-male creature (Dash Mihok) identifies the subdued female creature (whom Neville was experimenting on to create the antidote, which seems to have finally taken effect). Neville realizes there’s still humanity in these mutants, and taking into account the ingenuity they’ve shown before (such as knowing how to spring a trap for him earlier in the film), he also realizes that they’re not exactly the non-intelligent monsters he thought they were. He gives the creatures the newly-cured woman, whom the alpha male takes with distraught disappointment, and he lets them all go. Thinking back to all the creatures he either killed or experimented on in the long time he’s been the only normal human in the city, he realizes a very harsh truth: they’re not the monster in this world; he is. All this time, he’s been thinking these are horrific monsters that need to be exterminated from our society, but it’s not his society anymore—it’s a brand new world with a newly formed species and he’s the rare breed that won’t adapt to it. In the eyes of the people that now rule the world, he’s the monster that can either be fought or feared, just as he thought of them.

This whole ending is masterfully done! And as a plus, it’s the ending that makes the most sense for this kind of story. It makes the film into a brilliant “eye of the beholder” story that challenges viewers and makes them truly think about what they’ve seen and where the characters can go from the ending. Neville lives in this version, and he and the other surviving humans leave to find other survivors, but…what happens after? It’s less optimistic, but it’s the ending that this thought-provoking end-of-the-world fable deserves.

And some numb-nuts at Warner Bros. must have thought, “Nope! Can’t have that! We gotta treat our younger audience for our PG-13 movie like they’re idiots! We treated them like adults long enough, so let’s just show Will Smith as a martyr or…something!” Whoever made that decision…I can’t stay mad at them for too long because after all, they did learn their mistake and release a DVD with that ending edited into a “director’s cut.” (Side-note: kudos to you, director Francis Lawrence—you knew what you were doing.) And it’s the director’s cut that truly deserves praise, because the ending delivers more in home-media than what it originally promised in the theater.

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One Response to “I Am Legend: Special Edition”

  1. Wammyspeaks April 14, 2018 at 5:01 am #

    I almost luv everything Will Smith is in.

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