The latest film to decimate a city is Francis Lawrence’s remake of the 1954 novel I Am Legend, written by Richard Matheson. Judging by the box-office receipts – the film’s opening weekend raked in more than the first instalment of The Lord of the Rings – there’s nothing like an empty city to draw the
I Am Legend follows Robert Neville (Will Smith) as the last man alive in New York after the entire population is wiped out by a genetically-modified cancer cure gone wrong. The only other survivors are vampire zombies that have become infected with the disease, and they want Neville’s blood.
The story itself moves from the inane to the ridiculous. Smith battles against bloodsucking vampires while trying to find a cure for the disease and help repopulate the planet. But there’s something about seeing New York – or any city for that matter – as a desolate wasteland.
The film-makers relocated the story from Los Angeles, as it is in the book (presumably because LA makes Milton Keynes look like Mexico City), and the visual effect is spectacular. The opening sequence begins with Smith speeding around the deserted streets of Manhattan in a Ford Mustang
hunting a herd of deer. Later, we see him stalking a fawn through high grass akin to that of the Serengeti, in what in fact turns out to be Times Square.
In this genre of film, the city seems to act as a symbol of humankind; its destruction is the destruction of humanity. People love to watch a man struggling in the environment he’s created. For Hollywood, it’s almost a licence to print money.
The next movie to give New York a battering will be Cloverfield, scheduled for release later this month. Featuring a ‘skyscraper-sized’ monster tearing up the city, it’s unashamedly B-movie stuff, but with its gratuitous explosion of the Statue of Liberty, you can be sure it will be another box-office smash.
Resume: The plot of I Am Legend may be absurd, but nothing captures an audience’s
imagination more than a capital city in ruins.