(2007) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Will Smith, Alice Braga, Salli Richardson, Willow Smith, Charlie Tahan, Darrell Foster, April Grace, Dash Mihok, Joanna Numata, Samuel Glen, James McCauley, Marin Ireland, Pedro Mojica, Caitlin McHugh. Directed by Francis Lawrence
How does the world end? With a mighty cataclysmic event, a catastrophe natural or man-made such as an asteroid, a nuclear holocaust? Or will it be with the sounds of illness, a disease that wipes us out and leaves the planet to reclaim its cities until every trace we ever existed is gone?
Robert Neville (Smith) lives in Manhattan. He’s a scientist – or was. You see, Manhattan isn’t exactly the center of the world anymore. It’s deserted, inhabited by beasts escaped from the Central Park Zoo, Neville and his German Shepherd Sam.
The population of the world has been wiped out. They were trying to cure cancer and instead unleashed a virus that turned most of the population into mindless, hairless albinos with fangs and an insatiable hunger for human flesh. His home is like a fortress with a portable generator, steel doors on the windows and bright lamps that keep the zombies away (like vampires, they are allergic to sunlight that burns them into ashes when exposed).
He also has a lab in his basement complete with captured zombies to experiment on, trying to create an anti-virus that might cure the virus that came from the cure to…oh it makes my head spin. However one wonders if he’s the last man on earth and he’s already immune what he needs a cure for.
Into his life comes Anna (Braga) and young Ethan (Tahan), two survivors drawn to him by his regular radio broadcasts. At first he is happy to see any human beings at all but soon his situation is complicated, particularly since he’s getting close to a cure – but so too are the zombies getting close to finding a way into his fortress.
This is based on the classic Richard Matheson novel of the same name which has also spawned two other movie versions – The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price in the 50s and The Omega Man with Charlton Heston in the 70s. In both cases the plague victims turned into vampire-like creatures which is what the book had originally (in the book Neville armed himself with garlic cloves and Holy Water and did battle with crosses and stakes), but I think the fast-moving hairless zombies are a bit of an improvement.
Some critics have given the movie lumps for the zombies which are a mixture of CGI and make-up effects. In all honesty I have to disagree; the monsters are scary enough to give me the shudders even though I’ve seen the movie several times.
If you ever doubted that Will Smith is one of the most charismatic movie stars of our generation, look no further than here. Even in a dark, serious role he is still immensely likable and commands your attention. The flashback scenes with his wife (Richardson) and daughter (Willow Smith, his real life daughter) are extremely affecting. This is really his show; it’s just him and the dog for a large amount of the film and so a bankable star is absolutely crucial to making this movie work. That it does is all about The Fresh Prince.
It’s not just him of course; the special effects are pretty cool and the scenes in which Manhattan is evacuated is about as spectacular as it gets. Those scenes work so much better on the big theater screen but hopefully you can see it on something a bit larger than your iPhone.
There are some pretty serious lapses in logic here. For example, they clearly show the bridges and entrances to Manhattan being blown up but yet Anna and Ethan somehow make their way there. A single line of dialogue – “one of the tunnels was still open” could have resolved it, or “We found a boat that was still floating” but just having them appear is an insult to the intelligence of the audience.
I wasn’t overly fond of the ending which was somewhat more hopeful than the book was but making a great ending for a movie seems to be a lost art these days. Truly I dislike happy endings for their own sake; some movies really demand something bleaker and this one is one of those. On the extended cuts of the film, there is an alternate ending that is I think better than the one they used but it still could have used some work.
The movie is pretty solid and doesn’t really pull off the novel as well as it could have. Those who don’t find Will Smith their cup of tea should be advised that you are going to get an excess of him onscreen, although not in his wisecracking Fresh Prince persona which he’s used in a lot of movies over the years. For those who are his fans, this is a must-see. For those who like sci-fi spectaculars, this is also something that should be on your radar. For those who loved the Matheson book…well, it’s closer than the other two movies but still not nearly as effective. Everyone else, check it out if you think it might appeal to you but it’s probably not worth going out of your way to find.
WHY RENT THIS: Much more intense than the previous versions of the film. Stark and well-made, the sight of New York being reclaimed by nature is pretty sweet. Smith is as always an engaging hero.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending is unsatisfying, there are some incredible gaps in logic and the first part of the movie drags.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence and the action can be intense; the plague victims are pretty scary.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In various parts of the film, billboards and DVD packages for proposed Warner Brothers/DC Comics films can be seen, most of which never got made (at least to date).
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The 2-Disc DVD Special Edition includes an extended version of the film (along with the theatrical release version), four animated comics and DVD-ROM material including a 21-minute long featurette on real-life deadly diseases. There is a 3-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition which takes the DVD-ROM material and makes it accessible. There are also deleted scenes and an audio commentary available on the 3-Disc edition that isn’t on the 2-Disc version. For those who just want the original movie, you can probably find the single disc release out there dirt cheap.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $585.4M on a $150M production budget; this was a definite hit.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: On the Beach
FINAL RATING: 6/10