Your life is no poorer if you didn’t see I Am Legend. The first half of the film is decent enough: those shots of desolate Manhattan being reclaimed by nature are undeniably spooky and effective, and Will Smith gives a very good performance as a man cracking up under the strain of loneliness and fear. The second half falls flat because the monsters — humans turned into pale-skinned, bloodthirsty screamers by an engineered virus — are astonishingly crummy looking CGI creations that move too quickly to be convincing, and commit mayhem without sustaining any kind of damage, even when they’re bashing through walls and shatterproof barriers to get at the hero. This turns the film into just one more schlocky video game, and not even the arrival of Alice Braga, niece of The Divine Sonia, can redeem the epic cheesiness of the finale.
What is striking about the film, however, is that it marks the second time Will Smith has starred in a blockbuster science fiction film that parodies, intentionally or not, the loopier doctrines of the Nation of Islam.
The first was Independence Day, in which an immense alien spaceship dispatches a fleet of smaller ships to annihilate mankind’s cities as the first step in an invasion of Earth. Most people who know anything about the NOI know it preaches that the white race was cooked up by a mad black scientist named Yacub, who used genetic engineering to create those “grafted white devils” referred to by Louis Farrakhan and his disciples. Far fewer know of the Motherplane, a giant spaceship that orbits the Earth, awaiting the moment when it will dispatch 1,500 “baby planes” piloted by black scientists to wipe out America’s cities and restore the black race to its rightful place.
Maybe you think I’m reading too much into it, but the similarity between the plot of Independence Day and the “Motherplane Theory” was not lost on Farrakhan. The Final Call, the Nation of Islam’s house organ, angrily denounced the film as a jab at the NOI. The reviewer was particularly incensed by the fact that in the film, the alien mothership is destroyed by a back-stabbin’ brother (Smith) and a Jewish scientist (Jeff Goldblum). Delving even deeper, The Final Call declared that the movie’s marketing acronym, ID4, was “a bio-genetic reference to a genetic inhibitor which ceases certain procedures in evolution and life, according to researchers at M.I.T.” Need I add that Goldblum’s character, described as a “Jewish genius” by Farrakhan’s film reviewer, is a graduate of M.I.T.? Wheels within wheels!
Now here’s I Am Legend, in which Will Smith is trying to save the world from a genetically engineered virus that turns humans into . . . well, white devils bent on murder and destruction.
Will Smith could hardly have missed any of this. After all, Smith was a rapper before his acting career took off, and the NOI — particularly its offshoot, the Five Percent Nation of Islam — is a significant presence in hip hop. Smith himsef apparently leans toward Scientology, but that already provided the basis for Steven Spielberg’s version of The War of the Worlds, to say nothing of the self-parodying Battlefield Earth.
I was about to suggest that Smith branch out into an SF parody of Mormonism in his next flick, but then I remembered that TV producer Glen Larson dipped into LDS theology when he concocted the original Battlestar Galactica.