Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I Am Legend

Will Smith joins the new wave of disaster movies

In The Pursuit of Happiness, Will Smith was alone in a jungle-like, ruthless 70s' metropolis. In Francis Lawrence's I Am Legend, set in a post-apocalyptic 2012, the metropolis is desolately empty, its entire population wiped out by a deadly virus. And so there he is, Smith (Dr Robert Neville), with his gorgeous Alsatian Sam, trying to make sense of a world whose only living creatures are light-dodging humanoids. But what makes I Am Legend interesting is that the proto-zombies are mere extras in a tale of human despair and man/dog companionship rather than its essential ingredient. The film is more catastrophe than sci-fi. Luckily the scenes depicting a machine gun-toting American are few and far between (because at times you fear it may go down the slippery slope of "rambofication"). The film is great in conveying how you'd cope if you were left to fend off, completely alone, in the aftermath of an end-of-civilisation-like disaster. There's a very thin line between holding on to a sense of purpose and losing the plot and the boundaries blur when Will Smith begs a female mannequin to say hi back to him in a deserted DVD shop.

It is often said that arts in general are a reflection of our times. The post 9-11, Iraq War, clash-of-civilisation sense of insecurity seems to have spawned a whole new genre of disaster movies. Just like the 1970s (plagued by world terrorism and permanent fear of a nuclear war) were punctuated by the Airport series, Cassandra Crossing, Tower Inferno, the Poseidon Adventure and assorted sci-fi calamities, the last five years have set off, in succession, TV series like Lost and Invasion along with blockbusters like Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 28 Days Later and more recently Cloverfield and I Am Legend. Viruses gone mad, survivors' colonies, wilful doctors, inexplicable events and (super)natural disasters seem to epitomise the current sense of uncertainty as it's pervading our society. It's almost a case of extreme fiction applied to exorcise reality. Sometimes, though, the two blur, Amy Winehouse being a case in point.

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