I am Legend is not a happy film. OK, the vampire/ zombie/ end-of-the-world apocalypse genre is kind of hard to make amusing, but I left the cinema with an empty feeling in my stomach (and it had nothing to do with the burger and fries that I ate before I saw the film). The final scene showed a possible happy future, but with the gloom in the preceding scenes it felt like the artificial scene at the end of the original version of Blade Runner.
A film with a similarly downbeat ending is Man on Fire. Maybe because the hero in Man on Fire is only trying to save 1 small girl, whilst the hero in I am Legend is trying to save the entire human race, our emotions react differently. Denzel Washington is extremely violent in his quest to save the girl whilst Will Smith is more measured as he tries to survive long enough to save humanity. Surely if humanity is saved we will leave the theatre happy and entertained? So why do I prefer the ultra violence and ruthlessness in the quest to save 1 girl?
I have a theory, but I don’t know if it holds up: The style of Man on Fire is vastly different from I am Legend: where I am Legend uses natural light to empahsise the isolation in New York, Man on Fire uses strange colours, fast edits and a pumping sound track. Tony Scott, the director of Man on Fire, uses similar techniques in Domino to pretty good effect. But you have to want to take a post-rock’n’roll trip to enjoy the film. If you can keep up, it is fantastic; though watching the film at a theatre may be overpowering, seeing it on your own big screen TV is mind blowing. This seems to be reflected in the ratings for these films on Rotten Tomatoes but as I saw both Man on Fire and Domino on DVD maybe I got a better experience.
Which brings me to my final downbeat ending to a film: Sin City. If you thought that Man on Fire was violent, boy you ain’t seen nothing yet. I saw the trailer for Sin City and knew that I had to see the film. I knew nothing of the story or the comic books by Frank Miller that it was based on, but watching the film at a theatre was a truly incredible experience. However, and this is a big however, as I came out of the cinema I honestly don’t know if I enjoyed it. The film was amazing, the style, the acting and the way the stories interwove was a feat to behold. But enjoy it? I don’t know- and I wasn’t the only one. I overheard 2 women talking about the film as we left the theatre: “Did you enjoy it?” “I don’t know. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but I am not sure if I enjoyed it”
All three films (I am Legend, Man on Fire and Sin City) had downbeat endings. For me, the experience I had watching the films was vastly improved by the style of the film: Sin City and Man on Fire had something that took you out of the story and into the director’s vision of what he was trying to say. I am Legend just left me as flat and bored as the empty streets of New York in the film.