`Legend' director turns book's plot on its head

The Gripe

December 14, 2007|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun Movie Critic

Believers beat skeptics dead-cold when it comes to affecting the reception of a big-budget movie.

Catholic groups that protested the release of that free-thinking spectacle The Golden Compass congratulated themselves on its disappointing returns at the box office this week.

But you haven't heard a peep from any atheist groups who might protest I Am Legend for implying that God is responsible for saving a remnant of mankind from a virus that turns most people into zombielike vampires.

Midway through, the last thing the military-scientist hero, played by Will Smith, sees before he thinks he'll succumb to a swarm of "Dark Seekers" is a glittering cross. It turns out to dangle from the neck of a character who comes out of nowhere, not merely to prolong Smith's life but to argue that God sent her to him.

The whole point of Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend was to provide rational explanations for supernatural phenomena. Much of the way through, the Smith version emphasizes the scientific method as a way of establishing a cure. Then it resorts to a flurry of cliffhanger coincidences that appear to express director Francis Lawrence's belief in divine right. Lawrence's previous film, Constantine, was like the Book of Revelation done as a graphic novel.

Mixing horror and inspirationalism, he targets teens who are both irreverent and devout. With Constantine and I Am Legend, he seems to be making a habit of having his communion wafer and eating it, too.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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