A group of people break in to a facility and free a bunch of captured chimpanzees. A worker pleads with them not to let them go because they are infected with "rage" but the liberators pay no heed. 28 days later, a man named Jim wakes up in a hospital bed, and finds he is in an empty city. That is the beginning of one of the most visionary movies I have ever seen. It manages to effectively be a horror film, a survival film, a zombie film, an emotional film, and social satire. The characters in 28 Days Later are incredibly human, so they do not fall prey to the same situations many less believable characters fall to. They don't often split up, making sure not to lose each other, but as one of the "family" groups so often seen in films and novels, they work effectively. In fact the only reason one of the characters dies is because of compassion for a dead man. 28 Days Later was written by a novelist: Alex Garland, and the narrative shows it. As beautiful images of the English countryside and flesh eating monsters blend seamlessly together to create a story that manages to be both meditative and exciting, and the story is full of unexpected plot points because of the situation. Let me just say that the unexpected plot points are one of the things that I love about the genre. With other movies you are trying to find the treasure or get the girl or win the war, but in a world that is hell on earth you just have to survive and keep going in a direction without a map. When the characters find a goal and achieve it, they find that there isn't the security that they were looking for and that they have to move on. Garland's novel-like narrative is beautifully complemented by Director Danny Boyle's visual style, as well as the music of Godspeedyou Black Emperor. Boyle's photography uses slightly lowered image quality to its advantage, making the beauty and majesty still remaining in this post-apocalyptic London seem as surreal as it must seem to the characters. Humanity has gone to hell, but the world is still spinning, still green, and still eerily beautiful, ugly people fighting in a world that seems happier without them. Boyle's other cliche-breaking achievement in this film is not relying on the dark to create fear, but to make the daytime scary as wel. He creates a fear not so much for ones own life but for the loss the other characters will experience and have experienced. However, there is one curiosity to the film. There were two filmed endings, a happy one, and a sad one, both of which maintain the surreal feel of the film, although the sad one is more effective, and the happy one is a crowd-pleaser, both are good enough not to mar an excellent film.
Now on to Cast Away, the film with a fascinating beginning and middle, and a stifling interminable end. After introducing the characters, a truly frightening plane crash sequence leaves a postal worker stranded on an uninhabited island. Thus begins a fascinating survival saga. The first part of this story has virtually no dialogue, yet manages to show the character's duty to his job as well as his sheer desperation. The rest of the story begins when he creates for himself an "imaginary friend" of sorts, using a Wilson volleyball that was in one of the packages on his plane, which allows for dialogue and should get co-star billing above the other human actors. The story then details his survival and escape, and then his return to society. However, once he returns to society, the entire film falls to pieces. What was once a story about the will to live becomes another "girlfriend has moved on but he wants her back" story. The wrap-up to the love story is nowhere near as powerful as the wrap-up to his life on the island with Wilson, which is truly touching, rather than the phony ending.
I Am Legend is basically a combination of the two. Its about a man and his one, non-speaking friend, struggling to survive and to have the will to survive in a post-apocalyptic world ruled by diseased humans. When the film opens with a woman stating she has created a cure for cancer, followed by a wide shot of a deserted New York City, it may seem to be a 28 days knockoff. It is anything but. I Am Legend focuses on aspects of the Zombie Horror genre that are not typically explored. Instead of focusing on the survival of a "family group" fending off hordes of the undead, Legend focuses on the endeavors of one lonely man attempting to find a cure. Everything about what has happened is revealed in flashbacks, which are the only scenes with human dialogue. Dr. Neville's (Will Smith) only companion is his dog, Samantha, who leads him into some exciting and intense sequences, as well as saving his life, as he fights the disease that has taken over the world. That is what the first hour of the film is like, and its a blast. It manages to be emotionally satisfying, action packed, and distinguish itself from its other post-apocalyptic zombie predecessors. Unfortunately, that's only the first hour. From there, the film loses all of its momentum and all of its vision to become a typical Hollywood film. All this happens because the filmmakers felt the need to add two more characters, even though the film was better off without them. The characters are Anna and Ethan, although the latter should be called "silent kid" as he does not have a single line in the entire film. Anna merely serves as a catalyst to end the movie, and silent kid as a catalyst to create one of the "family groups" that characterizes so many films of this genre. It is like Cast Away in proportions of bad and good. The dog is Wilson, and Anna is like the postal worker's ex-girlfriend, who show's up just in time to blandify the film. It's disappointing, because the first hour is amazing (except for the poor CGI animation) but it falls flat to deliver a formulaic ending.