I Am Legend (US - BD)
Our reviewer Marcus checks just how controversial I Am Legend is on Blu-ray
“The last man on earth is not alone”…He’s got his dog.
Will Smith leads an all star cast of just himself, in a future where everything’s gone to hell. A miracle cure for cancer has disastrous consequences, leaving military virologist Robert Neville (Will Smith) the sole survivor in New York City. Living his days and surviving his nights, Neville tries to find a cure for whatever’s turned the human race into primal, blood-thirsty, nocturnal CGI beasties, with only his trusty dog to talk to.
I am Legend is a movie that I initially had a lot of respect for. The director, Francis Lawrence paints the picture of a deserted Manhattan with a steady hand. It all feels very genuine and literally like everyone just up and left, especially with the use of flashbacks showing you a very much alive city. The first two acts of the movie are incredibly well put together. It all looks fantastically well realised, with an atmosphere that pulls you in and has you right in the palm of its hands. The scene involving Sam, Neville's Dog, chasing a deer into a pitch black ‘Hive’ is a prime example of what this movie does well: perfectly paced, creepy, and one hell of an introduction to the movie's baddies.
This is a fine vehicle for Will Smith. There are few big name actors who could hold an audience and keep them entertained like the Fresh Prince seems to. This is no mean feat considering that he’s alone on screen for a vast chunk of the movie's running time, bouncing his dialogue off of his dog, Sam, and the mannequins dotted about his local video store (actual mannequins, I’m not taking a pop at the other cast members). Big Willy sells the character’s world, the isolation and the determination of getting the job done and for the most part you join him for the ride.
The movie drip-feeds you information at a steady pace. From the very effective opening news reels where the cure for cancer is revealed, the total chaos of a diseased New York on the brink of collapse, through to the slow break down of Neville’s mental state. You know what’s happened and you know why, but this is all just build up to revealing the real nightmare in Neville’s life—the infected. The leftovers of New York’s current movie disaster. The Dark Seekers.
Now here is where the movie starts falling apart for me. On a base level, the Dark Seekers don't work. The CGI effects are pretty close to the worst in recent blockbuster memory. They look little better than a Playstation zombie from the Resident Evil series and the SFX team do very little to try and sell their realism to the audience. The only highlights being their introduction where they're huddled together in the darkness, which is incredibly effective. That said, even some of the worst SFX can be forgiven if you back it up with character or a killer pay off, but frankly, I Am Legend fails on both. The movie essentially abandons an entire thread that seemed to be developing the Dark Seekers into something more and opting instead for the full-on attack, just undermines all the nods to cleverer things that were peppered in the events that got us to the final act.
Why even bother to hint at the Dark Seekers’ intelligence if you’re not going to do anything with it? Was that main one the leader? Was he ordering the infected around like an army? Did he set the trap for Neville or was Neville just having a breakdown? None of this is acknowledged. All of this is swept aside for a big explosive blockbuster ending that really lets the movie down.
So what of the alternative ‘controversial’ ending? The ending does, sort of, acknowledge the possibility of the Dark Seekers’ intelligence. The alternative ending shows that they have emotion and maybe even love for their own and all of this was merely a rescue mission for the leader Dark Seeker’s wife. It's actually okay. Sort of an M Night Shyamalan twist in the tale. I'm not sure what's so controversial about it though. At least this version gives some form of payoff to the glimpses throughout, that tried to convince us the Dark Seekers were more than just about screeching Gollums. Either way, both endings are stacked with their fair share of problems, the biggest being that neither version does the movie justice.
I Am Legend is a bit of a mixed bag of a an HD transfer. Of course it’s stunning for the most part—it’s HD. Natural light looks fantastic—the sunrise, the brightness of the midday sun, the vibrant blue sky, the shiny red of that typically brand new car in the opening scenes—it’s all pretty glorious. But when the darkness begins to set in, so does its issues.
Some of the edges are a little soft, especially on skin tones. A lot of the darker tones have that bluish tint to them. The blacks in the darker scenes never quite feel black, and after Big Willie sets off the bombs and the dust fills the air, everything begins to get a little muddy.
Of course, none of this is terrible. The transfer is still way more impressive than a standard DVD could ever be, but with big new Warner Brothers titles like this you sometimes picture in your mind that there will be no issues. So, when these tiny issues sneak into your ever-critical eye, it sometimes needs the mention. Don’t get me wrong, this is a fine HD transfer, it’s just not the finest you’re ever gonna see.
I watched this in Dolby Digital 5.1 and it was quite an atmospheric experience. This isn’t really one that plays on dynamic speaker movements, but it pretty perfectly captures that feeling of being drawn into the situations and locations.
The multi-layered sound elements of an empty city are all around you: leaves brushing, birds tweeting, and the sound of big open spaces. This really works well for this type of movie, because as soon as the unnatural sounds of the Dark Seekers enter into the mix you are affected that much more.
One particular element I did enjoy was the sound of the muscle-car hammering it through the New York streets in the deer chase. The louder elements build up as the movie progresses towards its explosive closing events and while there’s not one particular scene I would say is a ‘show off moment’ it’s a solid sound mix overall. This worked very well when I saw I Am Legend in the cinema and I’m pleased to report that the same can be said here.
There’s not a great deal here really. The fact that the alternative cut is put on both the Blu-ray and standard definition versions as a whole feature, as opposed to using a branching system, seems a little strange. There are literally just a few extra scenes and a different ending.
As for the other features, the twenty minute look at ‘The Science of I Am Legend’ is brief at best. It gives you a very broad overview of how viruses work and have worked throughout history. The feature is essentially a lot of virus-admiring science folk telling you how some of the famous viruses have evolved. This is inter-spliced with some photos of their effects on humans and some CGI shots of cells being attacked. Every five minutes or so the feature also throws in Will Smith or Francis Lawrence in an obvious attempt to tie together real science with their research for the movie. Strangely, some of the most unbelievably random shots from Outbreak are thrown in as well.
As for the main body of the features, there’s the ‘Creating I Am Legend’ mini documentary gallery, all presented in HD. This is basically twenty-one chapters of web doc style featurettes, which all amount to a little over fifty minutes. As expected, these focus on the small elements of the making of the movie, including, shutting down the New York Streets, the stunt guys’ work, the SFX people and even some snippets from the writer of the original novel Richard Matheson. There’s nothing really to report here. It’s all pretty standard short and sweet stuff and what we’ve all come to expect from these little mini-documentaries over the years.
The one thing that I really took away from these features was that there was a very different movie being made that didn’t reach our screens. There seemed to be a bigger religious arc that they played down. There also looked to be more of a play on Neville’s sanity via the use of the mannequins and I’m more than certain that there were a lot of different takes on what the Dark Seekers were going to be and how much we were meant to find out about them.
Last up, there’re the four Animated Comics. Yep, that’s right, no commentary from the director or the Fresh Prince. The comics are those weird computer assisted still images that glide around the screen. Some have voiceovers, some don’t, but they are all stories around the tale of I Am Legend. They’re quite good, and have some fine comic book artwork, but they’re very much a watch once out of interest sort of affair really.
When I saw I Am Legend theatrically on Boxing Day, I felt as if I didn’t need to rush to see it again, but watching this Blu-ray release, I’m glad that I did. I still think the last act is one big mess that feels like a compromise over a mixture of different idea’s, rather than a definitive choice or clear vision, but there’s no denying that I Am Legend is a solid take on the zombie/post-apocalyptic genre. It feels lived in, like 28 Weeks Later did so well. In fact, the events are portrayed so genuinely, that you get a real sense of how this would play out if the real world fell apart in this way.
It would have been nice to have a commentary included here, ideally from Will or the director, if only for a little insight on how they felt the Dark Seekers should have been perceived. With that inclusion it may have elevated this pretty bog standard set of features to something a little more interesting.
I Am Legend is a solid piece of entertainment, which, despite its flaws, is still a pretty impressive. It shows a more mature Will Smith, who has ditched the over use of the ‘Hell Nahh’s’ for a more subtle performance. What with this and his stellar performance in The Pursuit of Happyness, it seems Will Smith is becoming a megastar who’s not just going to sit back and play the same ole' tune.
As a side note, in the mid-nineties Ridley Scott planned on directing Arnold Schwarzenegger in I Am Legend. Now that is a version of this movie I would have loved to see!
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 18th March 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Alternative Version (104 Mins), Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend, Creating I Am Legend, 4 X Animated Comics
Easter Egg: No
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: WIll Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Salli Richardson
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi and Thriller
Length: 100 minutes
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