Saturday, December 15, 2007

I Am Legend: 28 Days Later Becomes 3 Years Later

Well, we think of vaccine development as something good. Necessary. In fact, we are critical of our government for allowing liability concerns to slow down the development and mass manufacture of a avian influenza virus vaccine. We know that rapid deployment of a vaccine presents risks, as in 1976 when some people inoculated with swine flu vaccine, developed rapidly under Gerald Ford’s leadership, got Guillain Barre Syndrome. Even now, we allow some people to take a live virus flu vaccine through nose drops – not neo-synephrine.

Well, imagine if a deliberate virus infection could cure all kinds of cancer, by turning off the immortality genes. That’s a supposition of the movie "I Am Legend", starting this weekend. Directed by Francis Lawrence, based on a novel by Richard Matheson, from Warner Brothers and Australian film producer Village Roadshow, it gives us Manhattan three years after a live measles virus cancer vaccine went wild, with weeds growing in the streets, bridges down, and Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith) apparently the only survivor. He even has a medical lab in his fortress Washington Square apartment. He also has, not just Medeco, but double level lock levers and metal boards for his windows, since the one percent of the world that has survived the man-made virus has turned into raging hairless zombies, reminding us of “Night of the Living Dead” (where the infection is comes from some sort of dust from a space probe) or “Dawn of the Dead.” At least in Michael Crichton’s “The Andromeda Strain” the infected don’t become belligerent (although the doctors have to undergo sterilization and depilation with the photoflash). In this movie, there is no narrator V. Martin tracing the steps of the breakdown of civilization as in a History Channel mega-disaster.

For that matter, Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” (Fox Searchlight, 2003) presented a similar experimental misfire in London, with Cilian Murphy the hero. Same rage virus.That movie would be followed with an unfortunate sequel “28 Weeks Later” where they are still trying to keep the infected from coming back.. This concept of warning the public happens in some other horror films, like “Cabin Fever” (Lions Gate, 2003, Eli Roth), and even “30 Days of Night” (Columbia, 2007, dir. David Slade). A variation of this idea would, of course, be a virus that prevents women from getting pregnant, “Children of Men” (Universal, 2006, dir. Alfonso Cuaron) and even Clive Barker’s “The Plague” (Screen Gems, 2006, dir. Hal Mosenberg).

Films like this, even as silly and bloated as they are, at least do the service of keeping the public ask questions about vaccine development.

The ultimate yarn about a man-made virus may be Stephen King's "The Stand" (1978, full version in 1990), made into a TV series movie in the mid 1990s and sometimes shown today on the Sci-Fi channel.

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