With the holiday season always a busy time for the movies, it’s no wonder that despite mixed reviews, I Am Legend came out on top at the box office and maintained a strong theater presence in the States. When combined with the overseas totals, I Am Legend raked in over half a billion in revenue—a lot of dough for a movie that rests on the shoulders of Will Smith and a German shepherd.
When a deadly virus that was meant to cure a disease became airborne in New York City, the government had no choice but to evacuate the island. With a kill rate of over ninety percent, the virus left few survivors. The ones that did survive were turned into demonic creatures that only came out at night. One Robert Neville (Will Smith) was a complete survivor of the virus, who showed no side affects. Neville opted to stay near Ground Zero to try to find a cure for the “Dark Seekers” with altered strains of his own blood.
In the vein of Cast Away, we’re given a man who is left all alone on an island who is left to fend for himself. Unlike Tom Hank’s famous role, however, Will Smith plays a man who opted to stay on the island, but the resulting affects of being alone are just as evident. Neville frequently talks to mannequins in stores and maintains a strong bond with the dog that he gave to his late daughter. It’s all very much indicative of humanities need and desire for contact with other humans and is a very strong reminder of the disaster that mankind can cause with science.
For a “blockbuster” film, I Am Legend felt a bit more serious than one would expect, but that’s what helps the film keep its strong pace and excitement level going. We get to see what Neville does on a daily basis and our first scene with the Dark Seekers is incredibly intense, but we don’t even really see any actual blockbuster-esque explosions until near the very end. It’s a strong but relatively silent film that studies a man left alone in a city that once housed thousands.
There is plenty to enjoy in I Am Legend, but it really does falter in a couple ways. The reliance on CGI for the Dark Seekers sometimes looks incredibly strange and results in the once-humans not looking very human at all, but rather some fish like blobs that happen to walk and roar like lions. I’m not entirely sure why they were made to look so…cartoonish, but it was definitely a strike against the film.
The other area the film stumbles in is the final conclusion. While the result isn’t unsatisfactory, it just seems like it lacks a final punch. The film also seemed to completely skate over the issue of why and how Neville became the one to attempt to fight the virus. Those hoping that the alternate ending included on the DVD would make for a better ending, feel free to yell—in many ways, the alternate ending was even worse.
Honestly there isn’t too much to say about I Am Legend. There are a couple moments where you’ll want to shed a tear and others where you’ll be on the edge of your seat. For the most part you won’t find yourself remembering too much of the film, other than a superb performance by Will Smith and some haunting shots of what a deserted and unkempt New York City would look like. Purely from a cinematic standpoint, the film is fascinating just to see a transformed New York.
Overall I Am Legend is a fun ride, but once you get off of it you won’t find yourself wanting more. It’s a decent way to spend an hour and forty minutes, but once its over you’ll either feel unsatisfied or disappointed with the final result—and that’s pretty much a guarantee. Despite all of that it’s worth seeing and is Recommended for the visuals and character study alone.
Although available on DVD and Blu-ray for months now (it originally released back in March), Warner Home Video has brought the film out with an all new two-disc Blu-ray special edition via a deluxe collectors set. Packaged in a high-gloss reflective foil case, the box may throw you for a loop at first if you study only its spine, which states it’s a DVD Video release, whereas the paper wrap on the set denotes Blu-ray. I assume they just printed one basic box for both the Blu-ray and DVD editions, so it’s not a big deal, just something worth noting.
Inside the box is an array of goodies. First up is a nicely done picture book, again covered in high gloss reflective foil and providing images of New York City before and after the outbreak. Also included are stills from the film, which are included as well by way of a 3-D Lenticular image that is moderately impressive but nothing to knock your socks off, and a collection of six reflective foil photographs that show what various cities around the world look like as well after the outbreak. Moving onto the actual discs, we have a three-disc, two-tray digi-pak release here. Once again reflective foil packaging is included for the digi-pak set, with the first disc devoted to the theatrical cut of the film and the second disc for the alternate version as well as the bonus features. Also include is a digital copy of the film.
Video for this film is presented with a VC-1 encoded transfer that is absolutely astounding. The clarity that this film presents is breathtaking, with the abandoned New York landscape coming through in brilliant HD. I hadn’t had the opportunity to check out the previous Blu-ray release of this film, but I doubt this is a new transfer—from what I heard when it originally hit Blu-ray, it was one of Warner’s very best efforts. That doesn’t change now, months later, even with the deluge of fantastic looking titles on the format. I Am Legend isn’t the powerhouse film I hoped it’d be, but watching it in HD is almost an entirely different experience. Colors are rather muted, due to the films saturated tone, but everything simply looks fantastic here.
It also helped that the audio track, a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, was just about as eye-opening as the new transfer. The audio mix played with each of the surrounds and subwoofer output was deep and rich. Thankfully both the theatrical and alternate cuts have a full TrueHD 5.1 track, so you’re able to watch one or the other with relative ease. I’m still surprised they included a whole second cut of the film whose only difference is the ending, but the ending does have more impact upon the viewer if you watch the film in its entirety first. Overall both the audio and video transfers amaze, but is that enough to warrant a double dip? Let’s check out the extras.
Unlike the DVD edition I reviewed previously, whose extras were DVD-ROM only (yup, it was annoying), all of that content is provided here and in 1080i HD to boot. First up is a “Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend” (20:40), which talks about the probability or likeliness of an outbreak like the one we see in the film. It’s a great little piece, albeit rather frightening should any of it come to pass. The next series of extras is “Creating I Am Legend”, a twenty-one part documentary with a runtime of 51:37. This is a great little series of clips, and they’re repeated in the “Focus Points” for the film, which you activate by clicking on a golden disc that appears on the screen at any given time. Also included are the Animated Comics (21:51, 1080i) and Theatrical Trailer (2:46, 1080p).
Think that finishes up the extras for the first disc? Nope. New to this collector set is a Commentary by Director Francis Lawrence and producer-screenwriter Akiva Goldsmith. The track can be a bit dry at times, but it’s a very welcome addition to this film that previously didn’t have a lot of extras to begin with (it gives me hope we may see a proper The Dark Knight re-release down the line). Lawrence and Goldsmith fill us in on plenty of little details that mainly focus on the film’s production and the difficulties of filming in New York at times. It’s an interesting track and worth listening to if you’re a fan of the film.
Moving onto the second disc we have the “alternate” cut of the film as previously mentioned. Previously I was a rather angry that the second disc was devoted entirely to what amounted to a few minutes of footage, but now that we’ve been given extras in the proper areas, I don’t care so much anymore and can now see the benefit of it. Aside from this alternate version of the film, we have a few more extras to check out. First is The Making of I Am Legend (25:58, 480i), a EPK style piece that includes cast and crew interviews. Next we have I Am Legend – The Making of the Shots
Needless to say this release is miles better than the previous release, both in regard to the DVD and Blu-ray releases. Of course whether you upgrade is going to largely depend on how much you enjoyed the film to begin with, but with both the DVD and Blu-ray versions of this collectors set being priced only dollars apart, those who had the DVD edition previous will find this new Blu-ray release well worth the upgrade. As I said before, the film isn’t the powerhouse blockbuster I’d (or Warner) hoped it’d be, but with each repeat viewing I give it, I see new things to enjoy about it. Flawed, sure. But at least this new collector’s edition packs on the extras to give us hours of new content to sort through. Highly Recommended.
I Am Legend (Ultimate Collector’s Edition) arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on December 9th.
Note: “Glamour” shot of the set is of the DVD edition; contents are the same as the Blu-ray edition, the only difference is the Blu-ray banner on the box.