On another journey to the local video store, I picked up two new releases that appear to have little in common. However, it seems that many films of all genres are jumping on the "post-apocalyptic" band wagon. I did not want to like I Am Legend starring Will Smith. On the other hand, I wanted to love the long-awaited Southland Tales directed by Richard Kelly, of Donnie Darko fame, and starring Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, Justin Timberlake, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Mandy Moore. Both films deal with the annihilation of the human race in two major U.S. citiesNew York City and Los Angeles.
I Am Legend relies completely on Will Smith. It is set on the island of Manhattan after a virus, meant to cure cancer, has turned most of the population into sun-starved, blood-sucking, rabie-infected creatures. The film is partly an analogy of a major metropolis's destruction and the virtual destruction of a man by consuming loneliness. The other part of the film is a horror film with your typical zombie/creatures, which we have seen before in films like 28 Days Later and The Descent.
The "monsters" really look just like the creatures in The Descent. Yet, unlike The Descent, the creatures in I Am Legend posess super-human strength, which I guess is the reason the monsters are computer generated and not played by actors.The parts of I Am Legend which are most intriguing are the quiet moments with Will Smith enjoying the rewards of living in a huge city and having access to everything and anything. We see him hitting golf balls off a jet wing and cruising the streets in the car of his choice. He does all the things that would make it kind of cool to be the last man on Earth. However, the moments of him talking to the mannequins set up about town, show a deeper need for human connection. I am always weary of films, especially horror, that introduce any sort of pet. Dr. Neville's only companion in the great metropolis of Manhattan, is his dog, Sam. Poor Sam, the German Shepherd, did not have a chance.
Whereas, Donnie Darko was a study of what it would be like if Darron Aronofsky, in his PI days, and Richard Kelly were the same mind, Southland Tales is Kelly working in the mindset of Terry Gilliam in his Brazil days. I hate to make this disclaimer, but here it goes. I am by no means claiming that Kelly's Southland Tales is as good as Gilliam's Brazil. These are two movies that share a certain filmatic quirkiness of the creation of the future. Southland Tales is a tale of a futuristic 2008 Los Angeles, on the cusp of world annihilation. The premise is that the state of Texas survives a nuclear attack, not so unlike Hiroshima, which catapults an energy crisis and a "Big Brother" type government. Like Donnie Darko, it again plays with the idea of time space continuum. There are people playing their future selves and also their past selves and one person playing both, which becomes the axis of the end of the world. Everything in this film is more playful than serious, even though there seems to be a bigger message. There is even a musical scene with Justin Timberlake, who plays a scarred soldier back from Iraq. I know this film had a theatrical release and I know it did not fare so well. It is too bad that the five year hiatus between Donnie Darko and Southland Tales did not warrant a better film. Although expectations were very high, Richard Kelly tried to pack too much into one science fiction film.