04 July 2007

Pre-Release Speculation :: I Am Legend :: Will Smith

I Am Legend Poster, 2007 In December of 2007, the latest cinematic version of Richard Matheson's novel, I Am Legend, is due to be released. This time the protagonist, Robert Neville, is played by Will Smith. The director will be Francis Lawrence, director of Constantine. The story follows the struggles of Dr. Robert Neville, apparently the last and the only person uninfected from a virus that causes sensitivity to electro-magnetic radiation or sunlight and bloodthirsty and murderous tendencies.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, 1954 Matheson's book published in 1954, takes place in his future of 1979. A pandemic breaks out caused by a bacterium and results in the human population essentially displaying the characteristics and the behaviours of vampirism. Having survived the initial outbreaks and seemingly unaffected by the disease, Neville spends his nights barricaded inside a fortified house and his days killing the vampires while they sleep.

I Am Legend was previously made into two other film versions, one in 1964, called The Last Man on Earth and starring the irreplaceable Vincent Price. The second film adaptation, starred Charlton Heston and was called The Omega Man in 1971.

Where the first film was more in line with Matheson's story and plot, the second film veered down another path. In Heston's version, the pandemic was caused by biological warfare and Heston's character, a military scientist, applied an experimental vaccine to himself that saved him from becoming infected. The infected are mentally crazed albinos, who have formed a cult around their predicament, that they call The Family.

The Last Man on Earth, 1964 From some accounts that I have read, the new version, after several different producers, budgets and re-writes, will be closer in spirit to the 1970's version.

One of the most obvious changes though is that the main character, Robert Neville will be played by an African American actor, Will Smith. Will is definitely one of the biggest box office draws out there with films and franchises like Bad Boys, Independence Day and Men in Black under his belt. Will has also been in his good share of speculative films including his role in The Legend of Bagger Vance and as Del Spooner in I, Robot.

The Omega Man, 1971 I wonder what racial commentary could be made of Will Smith's new role. Originally, the Robert Neville character was written to be imagined as a white man. The book focuses more on Neville's psychological temperment more so than on the social, political and racial ramifications of his ethnicity. The Omega Man, being produced in era when racial issues were closer to the forefront of daily news, starred African American actress, Rosalind Cash as Lisa, one of the infected survivors and the eventual lover of Charlton Heston. The inter-racial lovers were to grace the screen in a full kiss only 3 years after Star Trek's exploration into that unknown territory. It also starred Eric Laneuville as Lisa's younger brother, Richie, who is saved from turning by Neville's vaccine, only to eventually be murdered by The Family. I always felt that Richie needlessly sacrificed his life for the benefit of Neville's character, which is common in SF film (Yaphet Kotto in Alien, Paul Winfield in The Terminator and Joe Morton in Terminator 2: Jugement Day) however it could also be attributed to Richie's youth and naiveness of the human condition.

Honestly, I doubt the producers, writers or director of I Am Legend or that, Will Smith for that matter will cross the line into racial commentary. With a reported budget of over $100 million dollars and Will Smith's past portrayals which tend to lean to the side of the popular comedy, there is too much money and reputation to lose, respectively. In my opinion, though there is room a plenty for racial commentary. For instance, what if the bacteria or biological agent only affected white people and Will Smith's character and the other survivors (mostly Blacks, Black Latinos other dark skinned people) did so because of the melanin content or genetic variations inherent in people of direct African descent. Or how about if it were the other way around and the agent affected dark skinned people of more direct African descent because of the those differences? All kinds of comments could be made about why Will's character survives and is immune. Comments that go all the way back to places like slavery, rape, miscegenation and the Tuskegee Experiment in the United States.

Film is scheduled for release on 14 December 2007.

Filming Locations (from IMDB)
Brooklyn Bridge, New York City, New York, USA
Dumbo, Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA
Herald Square, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA
Kingsbridge Armory - 29 West Kingsbridge Road, Bronx, New York City, New York, USA
Los Angeles, California, USA
New York City, New York, USA
Park Avenue, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA
Tower Records, West Fourth Street, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA
Washington Heights, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA
Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA

Technical Specifications (from IMDB)
Color info: Color
Camera: Arriflex Cameras / Panavision Cameras and Lenses
Negative format: 35 mm
Process: Super 35
Aspect ratio: 2.35 : 1

See trailer here: I Am Legend


1 comment:

Abdul-Halim V. said...

I just saw I Am Legend, and I started (but haven't finished) Omega Man. In terms of racial commentary, one could probably explore the role of Black music in the films. Bob Marley was obviously promiinent in Will Smith's version, jazz seems to show up in previous versions.

One could also explore casting issues in terms of inter-racial relationships but that's a much bigger topic. With the possible exception of Malcolm X (it was in Alex Haley's book but right now I don't recall how it was treated in Spike Lee's film), I don't think that Denzel Washington or Will Smith have ever been romantically paired with straight-up white women in films. If they are with light-skinned women they are Brazilian or Hispanic or otherwise of at least some African-descent
(or in Mississippi Massala, Indian).

Also, so far I'm not as impressed by Omega Man (hopefully that will change). AFter seeing I Am Legend with the animalistic Dark Seekers I don't think I really like the whole sunglasses, robes, cult thing they have going on. I don't like hearing them talk. But to get back to the topic, I was surprised by the "honkey" comment by that oen Black vampire.

on a different note, I Am Legend also reminded me of The Quiet Earth (especially with the use of manequins) It's also an end of the world type of story with a small number of characters. I don't think race was supersalient but one could probably find a few interesting things to say.