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Thursday, December 13 , 2018, 5:54 am | Fair 43º


Cinema in Focus: ‘I Am Legend’

Fascinating premise fades into deeper questions about a world run amok.

2 Stars — Weak

The fear of unexpected consequences with genetic engineering has permeated modern life. Recognizing the good intentions of scientists who are working diligently to create cures for the diseases that plague us, we are nevertheless aware that some cures may unexpectedly destroy us.  That is the premise of Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend.

Based only loosely on the novel by Richard Matheson, Mark Protosevich (The Cell) and Akiva Goldsman (The Da Vinci Code) create a screenplay that walks with us into the horror of a world that has lost its people.  The cause is given in the first minute of the film as we watch an appropriately proud genetic engineer (Emma Thompson) explain on a morning news show that she has cured cancer.  The method was simple:  she took the measles virus and genetically changed it to fight the cancer cells.  She explains it in analogical form when she asks her audience to imagine a car being driven by a bad man and doing bad things.  What she and her research team were able to do is take the bad man out and replace it with a cop.  What she didn’t realize at the time was that it was a bad cop.  Within three years the human race on the planet has been decimated.

Taking some of the lessons of the film Cast Away, in which the Tom Hanks’ character was alone on screen for a majority of the film and needed — for his sake and the audience’s — to create an imaginary relationship with a volleyball, Lt. Col. Robert Neville (Will Smith) is the last man alive in New York City.  To give him a companion and for dialogue, he is accompanied by his trusted friend, Samantha, his daughter’s German shepherd.

A military research scientist, Neville decides to send his family away when the government quarantined the city where the new virus was first used and where it first began to kill its hosts.  Believing he can stop it, Neville sets up a sophisticated lab in the basement of his home and begins the task of animal and human experiments.  We view the devastation from both the effect it has on him individually and the devolution it causes to society and the world as a whole.

As a science-fiction film, there are many loose ends to this fascinating premise.  It could be made stronger in a variety of ways.  But it is a film that explores many current fears, including the question of whether God would intervene if humanity purposely or inadvertently was destroying itself.  That is a question with an answer we hope we do not have to find out.


Can you imagine a virus that could wipe out most of the human race?  Why or why not?

The mutation that occurs in a small fraction of the human race turns it into powerful, sunlight avoiding creatures that seek human blood.  This modern form of vampire picks up an archetypal fear.  What do you believe causes such a fear?

The film’s final scene shows a church in the middle of the survivor’s compound.  Do you believe God would protect a remnant of humanity if a devastating catastrophe like this were to occur?

The pictures of people on which Neville did experiments were on his basement wall.  Do you believe it was murder for him to experiment on them?

Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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