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I Am Legend - Preview

I Am Legend

Preview by Jack Foley

WILL Smith claims that I Am Legend, his Christmas blockbuster, is the realisation of an elusive personal goal – to find a project that perfectly blended populist popcorn fare with ambitious art film sensibilities.

The film finds him playing Robert Neville, a brilliant scientist who somehow becomes the last man in New York City after a terrible man-made virus is unleashed. Somehow immune, Neville must workout why he has survived and whether he’s actually the last person alive in the world.

But then he discovers he’s not alone – and surrounded by “the Infected”, victims of the plague who have mutated into carnivorous beings who can only exist in the dark and who will devour or infect anyone or anything in their path.

For three years, Neville has spent his days scavenging for food and supplies and faithfully sending out radio messages, desperate to find any other survivors who might be out there. All the while, the Infected lurk in the shadows, watching Neville’s every move, waiting for him to make a fatal mistake.

Perhaps mankind’s last, best hope, Neville is driven by only one remaining mission: to find a way to reverse the effects of the virus using his own immune blood. But his blood is also what The Infected hunt, and Neville knows he is outnumbered and quickly running out of time.

I Am Legend is actually Hollywood’s third attempt at adapting the 1954 source novel by Twilight Zone author Richard Matheson. Previous attempts were the 1964 Vincent Price vehicle The Last Man On Earth and 1971’s Charlton Heston cult classic The Omega Man.

It also has experienced something of a troubled history, with Smith previously being attached when Michael Bay was initially due to direct in 2002, before the studio pulled the plug on the huge budget involved due to the feeling they’d been beaten to the punch by Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.

Prior to that, the project had attracted the attention of Tom Cruise and Michael Douglas, as well as directors James Cameron and Guillermo del Toro – while Sir Ridley Scott and Arnold Schwarzenegger even managed to get it greenlit by Warner Bros some years before Arnie ventured into politics.

But now that it has been completed for a reported budget in excess of £100 million, it’s Constantine director Francis Lawrence who’s been given the opportunity to turn it into festive box office gold. And the omens appear good. The trailer looks awesome and the themes the film embraces couldn’t me more timely (and concern existential plight, xenophobia and pandemic jitters).

Writer-producer Akiva Goldsmith also describes it as “a deeoply quite movie” that’s “huge and tiny” at the same time. Hence, rather than opting for a straight-forward horror approach, the film unfolds from a psychological perspective and is said to be packed with panoramic shots of an empty New York – much like the approach adopted in London with the 28 Weeks Later films.

Smith himself feels the mix has been achieved perfectly and in a Fall preview edition of Entertainment Weekly, confidently claimed: “‘There’s a sweet spot I’ve been chasing in my career. ‘Gladiator, Forrest Gump – these are movies with wonderful, audience-pleasing elements but also uncompromised artistic value. I Am Legend always felt like it had those possibilities to me.’‘

Audiences will be able to judge for themselves when the film opens in UK cinemas on December 21, 2007. Alternatively, you can watch the breathtaking b>trailer