So no action movie is ever going to take science seriously in its plotting. But I Am Legend, this weekend’s top Manhattan movie, sparks some interesting ethical and scientific research issues.
Popular Mechanics decided to take on Will Smith head on: “Between a highly regimented schedule hunting deer in Times Square with his dog, Sam, and swinging a five-iron from atop a naval cruiser, Neville tries to find a way to reverse the virus using his own immune blood even as the Infected are closing in, setting traps and hunting him. But how much of this sure-to-be blockbuster Hollywood film (based on a famous sci-fi novel) is fact, and how much is fiction? We consult experts in the fields of structural engineering, virology and wildlife to determine what could happen—and what certainly won’t.”
According to Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us, which analyzes how long man-made structures would survive if humans were to one day vanish from the face of the Earth, the answer is both yes and no. “You’d certainly have a lot of plants growing up through cracks in the sidewalk,” Weisman says. “After three years, you might see some weeds that have made it waist-high in abandoned lots up in the Bronx, but if they’re showing a waist-high field of grass in Times Square, that’s a bit of a stretch.”
Equally bizarre, Lipkin says, is Neville’s immunity. “There are people who are resistant to retroviruses because they have mutations in receptors, but that’s a mutation that people have from the get-go,” he explains. “If someone had been exposed to a related virus and was immune to it, then they would carry that immunity, and that would be something that would occur over the course of their lifespan. But how this guy would have come into contact with such a virus is unclear, and certainly wouldn’t be explained in that way.”