I Am Legend | 2007
Dr Robert Neville (Will Smith) is the sole remaining human inhabitant of New York City after a man-made virus, born out of a revolutionary cure for cancer, morphs into an infectious micro-organism and infects the whole world. It’s based on the Richard Matheson novel, which has been filmed several times before, as The Omega Man and The Last Man On Earth.
Like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later… did in London, the production team was allowed to clear entire city blocks for short periods of time and during weekends. Even the briefest exterior shot required dressing each location with abandoned cars, crumbling building facades, artificial plants and weeds laid into cracked pavements, and a finishing layer of dirt.
Neville is first seen driving his Mustang Shelby south down 5th Avenue from 38th Street, past Herald Square and Macy’s department store, before turning left into 34th Street.
At West 25th Street, he unexpectedly swerves to avoid a deer running wild in the city in front of the Flatiron Building. He gives chase through Madison Square Park, before emerging onto East 26th Street and racing past the swanky Hotel Giraffe (a major location for the big screen version of Sex And The City) at Park Avenue.
The surreal deer hunt continues north on Park Avenue from East 27th Street to the Park Avenue Tunnel, into which the herd flees as Neville takes his shot. The tunnel, once called the Murray Hill Tunnel, now takes northbound traffic from East 33rd Street to East 40th Street, but used to carry the New York and Harlem Railroad, and later the same company's streetcar line. It’s actually the northern entrance at East 40th Street that the frightened animals are seen sprinting into – which is the same entrance from which they suddenly emerge before disappearing into the safety of the gridlock of abandoned cars on East 42nd Street.
Even in quiet hours, it would have been unfeasible to fill Times Square with rampant vegetation. The Kingsbridge Armory (Eighth Regiment Armory), a former National Guard armoury on West Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx, housed the huge, weed-overrun ‘Times Square’ set, where Neville generously lets a family of lions make off with the prey he’s been stalking.
As the sun begins to set, Neville returns to his apartment at 11 Washington Square North, overlooking Washington Square with its landmark arch, seen on screen countless times as an establishing shot for Greenwich Village.
The interior of the apartment, hung with priceless artworks from the city’s galleries, was built in another armoury, the Marcy Avenue Armory, 355 Marcy Avenue in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, which also later housed sets for Guy Ritchie’s 2009 Sherlock Holmes, with Robert Downey Jr.
During daylight hours, Neville ventures uptown to NoHo, where he’s working his way through the DVDs stocked at – what was – Tower Records, now a branch of Blink Fitness, 20 East 4th Street at Lafayette Street.
Each day, he desperately broadcasts a radio message for any other survivors to meet him at the South Street Seaport, on the East River at the end of Fulton Street, and also featured in The Adjustment Bureau.
Don’t go looking for the pier on which he sits at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, which is also used for the flashbacks to the evacuation of the city. Although the prime location certainly offers a stunning backdrop of the New York skyline, it doesn’t offer an actual pier. With the cooperation of city, state and federal agencies, the production brought in a barge and anchored it to the riverbed, with a gangway to the shoreline, creating the necessary pier.
With the whole of Manhattan as his playground, Neville whiles away his time perfecting his golf swing on the Lockheed A-12 Blackbird aboard the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, Pier 86 at West 46th Street. Will Smith was actually standing on a platform alongside the plane, then digitally moved so he appears to tee off from its wing. This sleekly photogenic reconnaissance craft looks good on screen, and is pretty much the same plane seen as a Decepticon in Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen.
Neville also fishes in the seemingly well-stocked pool at the Temple of Dendur in the Sackler Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street on the East Side. The reconstructed Egyptian temple is also featured in When Harry Met Sally… and Changing Lanes and is one of the New York landmarks glimpsed in Woody Allen’s Manhattan.
Another hunting expedition finds Neville and his German Shepherd Sam on West 14th Street at 10th Avenue, beneath the High Line (the elevated rail line turned urban park) in the old Meatpacking District, where he discovers a ‘hive’ of the infected and sets up a trap to catch one in order to test vaccines.
The infected turn tables by setting up a trap for Neville at the top of the Park Avenue Viaduct, in front of the south façade of Grand Central Station. He’s hoisted by his ankle in front of the bronze statue of Cornelius Vanderbilt and, though he frees himself, Sam is attacked by a pack of infected hounds.
After being painfully forced to kill her, Neville grimly drives up 7th Avenue, past the Hotel Wellington and the Carnegie Deli, to bury her in Central Park.
A suicidal confrontation with the night-dwelling creatures below the Brooklyn Bridge leads to his rescue by two more survivors, Anna (Alice Braga) and Ethan (Charlie Tahan), who’ve heard his radio messages.
This moment of good fortune has a dark side as the hordes of infected are led back to his no-longer-safe Washington Square haven.
In the sentimental theatrical version, Anna and Ethan drive, with Dr Neville’s wonder cure, to the legendary ‘Vermont’ settlement. Don’t be deceived by the autumnal colours, this is not ‘New England’. The idyllic hamlet is the town of Mount Airy, about 20 miles northwest of Trenton, New Jersey, overlooked by the elegant white spire of Mount Airy Presbyterian Church, 39 Mount Airy Village Road.
The original (now “alternative”) ending has Neville coming to a kind of understanding with the new denizens of the island of Manhattan, before heading out with Anna and Ethan across the George Washington Bridge to look for the fabled settlement.