I Am Legend Caused Some Real-Life Chaos For The Citizens Of New York

When it hit theaters in late 2007, "I Am Legend" was something of a mixed bag. The movie was an unqualified commercial success, scoring the biggest December opening ever at the time, but its star, Will Smith, was still disappointed in its box-office results and questioned whether a different ending might have made it a bigger hit.

For some critics, "I Am Legend" was simply undone by its visual effects, which left its hyperventilating monsters, the Darkseekers, looking like they had crawled up from somewhere deep in the uncanny valley. That's a shame, considering how gnarly and real the monsters might have looked had director Francis Lawrence foregone CGI in favor of the prosthetic makeup designs that practical effects studio Amalgamated Dynamics had worked up.

If there's one thing in "I Am Legend" that does work, effects-wise, it's the digital trickery used to help remove gawkers from the background and make New York City look utterly abandoned. Ironically, this is one area where Lawrence was not willing to compromise, since he felt it would detract from the movie if it had a fake setting. (Never mind the fake monsters.) Lawrence told HowStuffWorks:

"I didn't want the city to look like a painting. When you shoot on blue screen and green screen all the time and everything is generated, it starts to look a little painterly."

"I Am Legend" was shot around Grand Central Terminal, Fifth Avenue, and Washington Square Park, but it was not the only movie in the 2000s to make Manhattan look like a ghost town.

A logistical nightmare at times

Years earlier, "Vanilla Sky" had blocked off streets so Tom Cruise could do what he likes to do in movies and run with the wind in his hair through a deserted Times Square. However, that was a dream sequence, whereas Smith's "I Am Legend" character, Robert Neville, is meant to be the last man in New York in waking reality. Smith suggested shooting in Manhattan on empty streets was integral to get into his character's headspace. He told HowStuffWorks:

"You just can't beat actually walking down the center of a New York street with an M-16. It really assists in the psychology of creating the character when you can actually be in the place and not on green screen or in Baltimore [standing in] for New York."

Not all residents were thrilled about the production interrupting traffic and the rhythms of daily life in New York. Director Francis Lawrence acknowledged that the crew occasionally had to deal with people being uncooperative, but he said they were accommodating for the most part. At the same time, he had hundreds of crew members he was dealing with and it could be a logistical nightmare at times. The director added:

"The movie couldn't have been more fun or more of a headache at the same time. You have 200 production assistants hiding in doorways and around corners, and traffic cops blocking the street and it's a zoo, just to get a shot of a guy walking down the street with his dog."

For "I Am Legend," Lawrence also shot a flashback scene at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge that went to the opposite extreme, using 1,000 extras. CBS News reported that residents were warned not to panic if they saw Army helicopters and vehicles.

While the production of "I Am Legend" may have been controlled chaos and the Darkseekers may be a deal-breaker for some, the movie was at least able to achieve a realistic vision of an abandoned New York, and it's at its best when it's just Robert Neville and his dog inhabiting the landscape.