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I Am Legend (2007)
Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 3/18/2008
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/13/2008
Rapper turned actor Will Smith has become one of America's biggest movie stars. A quick glance at his resume shows that many of his films have been summer blockbusters (most of which opened in July) and he's become the king of the light-hearted action flick. (And it appears that this Summer's Hancock will continue that trend.) Even grittier films, such as the Bad Boys movies, can't be taken too seriously despite their level of violence. Yet, Smith also has a dramatic side, which he's shown in such films as Ali. On the surface, Smith's latest vehicle, I Am Legend, may look like another one of this action-packed fun fests. But, there's a reason why this movie opened in December, a time when studios are typically releasing their more serious, Oscar-caliber fare.
I Am Legend is set in the very near future. As the film opens, we watch a television interview with Dr. Alice Krippin (an uncredited Emma Thompson), who explains that she has discovered a way to use a virus to cure cancer. The story immediately leaps ahead three years. New York City is abandoned. Foliage is overtaking the city and animals roam the streets. The lone survivor is Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith), who travels the city by day with his dog Sam, foraging for supplies and "renting" DVDs. By night, Neville barricades himself in his house, for former humans who have been mutated into bloodthirsty fiends take the city over after dark. Through flashbacks, we learn that the city was evacuated (including Neville's family) and that Neville is immune to the virus which spread quickly around the world. Neville works daily in his lab, attempting to use his blood to find an antidote for the virus. In order to do these experiments, he must occasionally capture a mutant. But, Neville will soon learn that something may be hunting for him.
Those going into I Am Legend expecting a brain-dead action film may be sorely disappointed. This is a very serious and somber film. In fact, one could say that much of the film is depressing. Granted, there are some action sequences where the mutant attack en masse, but much of the first half of the film focuses on Neville's day-to-day existence. We watch as he and Sam cruise around New York trying not only to say alive and to cure the virus, but to fight off boredom as well. We also learn, again, through flashbacks, how tragedy befell the city, and how Neville's family-life was destroyed. Eventually, we see how the constant isolation has taken its toll on Neville's sanity, as he has conversations with inanimate objects. Robert Neville may be fit (there's an obligatory shirtless scene to show how "cut" Smith is), well-armed, and drive a bad-ass car, but he doesn't fit the action-hero mold as he's also sad, lonely, and desperate for human contact. (He has put out an invitation via AM radio to join him in the city and he everyday he waits for a response.)
But, don't get the impression that the movie is boring, as it's not. The fact that a movie leans more towards the serious and the dramatic doesn't mean that nothing happens. From the outset, I Am Legend contains some impressive action set-pieces. Whether Neville is hunting deer or the mutants, the movie is at its best during these moments. Director Francis Lawrence, who made the decidedly mediocre Constantine, shows a true knack for suspense here, as there are several scenes which offers edge-of-your-seat tension. There are also some good jump scares in the film. I Am Legend probably falls more into the science-fiction or action-adventure genres, but the movie will certainly frighten some audiences members.
There are two aspects of I Am Legend which keep it from becoming an instant classic. The first is the lapse in special effects. In the beginning, the film wows us with the effects used to create an abandoned New York City. They are truly transparent and believable, thus adding a great deal of power to the film. And then, the mutants show up. Was the decision to go CG with the bad-guys a bad one? I don't know, but they look very, very fake at times, and the imagery doesn't look any better than PlayStation 2 technology in some shots. This takes the terror out of some scenes, because it's difficult to believe that Neville's in danger, as his pursuer doesn't look real. The film's other issue is the third act. The impressive set up of the first half of the film meets a disappointing twist in Act Three. The direction in which the story went reminded very much of the way all of George Romero's Dead films end. Yes, I realize that something had to happen, but the film really deflates in the finale. And the ending feels very hollow.
In this day and age, it's rare that we get a film like I Am Legend. The movie has impressive action sequences and some truly suspenseful scenes, but it also take the time to let us get to know the main character. The film doesn't shy away from Neville's shortcomings, and this helps us to bond with him. The special effects are questionable and the ending is disappointing, but overall, the film is an effective and realistic look at what it would be like to be the last man on Earth.
I Am Legend goes it alone on DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has come to DVD in several different editions. There is a full-screen edition, a widescreen edition, and a two-disc widescreen edition. For the purposes of this review, the two-disc version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. Thanks to the fact that the Alternate version is housed on a second disc, the film wasn't crammed onto this disc, so the issues are minor. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. Aside from some minor video noise and some haloes around the characters, I didn't spot any distracting video problems. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track delivers a very rich sound. The stereo effects are good, especially during the first scene. There is an abundance of surround and subwoofer effects here, most notably during the finale. This track shows off the sound design and really helps the film.
The two-disc special edition DVD offers the original theatrical cut of I Am Legend on Disc 1 and an Alternate version on Disc 2. The only real difference in the Alternative version is what the DVD box art calls a "controversial ending". Actually, I would consider the theatrical ending to be far more controversial. This other ending isn't satisfying either, and with one major exception, the resolution is basically the same.
The I Am Legend DVD contains only one bonus feature. We get four "Animated Comics" which run about 22 minutes total, and can be viewed separately or in a series. These are essentially comic panels which feature limited animation, music, sound effects, and dialogue. They tell the story of how the plague effected those in other parts of the world. Overall, this is a mixed bag. They are interesting, but they don't really provide much more information about how the virus spread or how people dealt with it.
Warner Home Video has also brought I Am Legend toBlu-ray Disc, which also contains both versions of the film. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and we get a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 24 Mbps. The image looks excellent, as the picture is extremely sharp and clear. The image shows no grain and no defects from the source material. There is a lot of detail to the picture and the image has a lot of depth. The colors look fantastic, especially reds. The opening scenes really exemplifies this, as Neville's red car travels down deserted streets which seem to go on forever. I did see some haloes here, but otherwise the video looks great. The disc houses a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 which runs at 48 kHz and averages 2.0 Mbps. I Am Legend is a blend of very loud, action scenes, and quiet dramatic scenes, and this track handles both well. The action scenes provide highly detailed stereo and surround effects, with the explosions bringing in the subwoofer. During the quieter moments, the dialogue is clear and there's no hissing or distortion.
On December 9, 2008, Warner Home Video released an Ultimate Collector's Edition of I Am Legend on DVD. This handsome boxed set contains many goodies. First of all, there is a 3-disc DVD set, which is very similar to the previously released 2-disc special edition, but there are some new extra features here. Disc 1 contains the Theatrical Cut of the film. This is accompanied by a new AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director Francis Lawrence and Writer/Producer Akiva Goldsman. This is a good commentary, as the pair give us a lot of information about the film. They point out which New York locations are real and which aren't. They comment on the changes which the script went through on its way to filming. They also talk about the challenge of creating half of a film with only one character. Disc 1 also contains the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film. Disc 2 contains the Alternate Cut of the film. The audio and video quality of these DVDs is the same as those listed above. Disc 3 contains the Bonus Features. As with the previous release, this disc offers "Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend", "Creating I Am Legend", and "Animated Comics". "The Making of I Am Legend" (26 minutes) contains a good deal of interviews with Smith, Lawrence, and Goldsman who discuss the making of the film and the ideas behind the film. There are also comments from Richard Matheson. We see New York City street shooting, pre-visualizations, stunts, CG effects, shooting the evacuation scene, Neville's character, and working with the dog. (Some of this does mirror what's found in "Creating I Am Legend".) "I Am Legend: The Making of Shots" (26 minutes) examines five scenes from the film showing how layering, CGI, and green-screen were used to create the world of the film. The DVD contains 12 DELETED SCENES which run about 20 minutes and can be viewed with optional commentary from Lawrence and Goldsman. Most of these are relatively brief and some are simply extended versions of scenes from the film. The bulk of these scenes come from the second half of the film, and while we get more dialogue and drama, there's really nothing new.
But, the DVD is only the tip of the iceberg in this set. It contains a large, 44-page paperback book which is comprised solely of full-color, glossy photos from the movie. Next, are 6 postcard size prints which show the plague damage from various parts of the world. The final piece is a small, lucite (?) rectangle which contains a 3-D lenticular which depicts Neville fighting one of the monsters. The question is, is this edition worth the price-tag? If you are a fan of the film, the answer is yes. The DVD is more complete than the prior releases, and the extras in the box are undeniably cool.
Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long