I Am Number Four (US - BD)
Gabe would re-title this 'I Am Number 400 Retelling of the Same Story'...
John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) is number four of nine refuge alien babies sent from the planet Lorien following the destruction of their planet at the hands of the genocidal Mogadorians. While living a relatively happy and anonymous life among humanity (luckily enough Loriens look exactly like people), John and his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant), who for whatever reason isn’t as important as the nine children, learn that the Mogadorians are on Earth, and have already murdered numbers one through three. Apparently these horrible monsters follow a strict protocol. Henri moves John to a new town, where he tries to blend with the other teenagers that look like they’re in their twenties. Here he befriends a nerdy conspiracy theorist named Sam Goode (Callan McAuliffe), and amateur photographer Sarah Hart (Dianna Agron), whose ex-boyfriend Mark James (Jake Abel), and his jock buddies turns his life into an ‘80s high school movie. A lizard that turns into a beagle dog also follows him from Florida. Soon the Mogadorians find John and Henri, and shit gets real.
I Am Number Four is little more than a well-stacked collection hackneyed superhero clichés, and painfully outdated high school movie stereotypes. This retread is so littered with overused tropes its utter unoriginality could almost be worn as a badge of ironic honour. If only director DJ Caruso and his team of three screenwriters, not to mention the two people it took to write the original book, had it in them to understand the difference between homage, and boldfaced thievery. It’s all here – a tragic back story involving dead parents, a high school run by jock bullies, a nerdy friend that everyone (including his own stepfather) picks on, a pretty girl trying to change her identity with nominal artistic talent, a ‘discovering your powers’ sequence – and none of it is underscored by a single surprise or inversion of expectations. I give the production minor props for not making the main character a total sad sack, but his goofy journey of personal discovery takes no actual
chances, and his nice guy shtick wears thin in mere minutes. The mythology itself, though mapped-out, is usually quite brain dead. John’s powers basically consist of everything a hyperactive, superhero loving child could come up with in three minutes (super speed, super strength, force fields, telekinesis, electric manipulation, plus, um, flashlight hands?), but his guardian doesn’t do anything to prepare him for using them, even though he’s taken the whole John Conner route and kept him off the grid, not to mention telling him everything else about his alien past. In fact, Henri doesn’t even bother I assume this is all for the sake of slowly unraveling the story, but it’s idiotic, even in superhero movie terms.
From the word go (heck, from the first poster art) this was obviously another in the seemingly never ending line of major studio pictures desperately struggling to fill the void about to be left by the Harry Potter series. Unlike Percy Jackson and Eragon, however, this would-be series is aiming for a slightly older Twilight market. More specifically, it seems the producers (which include Michael Bay) were aiming at tween-aged girls currently discovering the joys of flawless boy flesh, without alienating their explosion-loving tween-aged boyfriends. But what I Am Number Four reminds me of more than anything are two other recent comic book movies not actually based on comic books – Doug Liam’s Jumper and Paul McGuigan’s Push (not based on a novel by Sapphire). All three films act more like trailers for future installments than feature length productions meant to stand on their own laurels (I was nominally impressed with Harry Potter wannabe The Sorcerer’s Apprentice for working as a stand alone film). Since I’m guessing we won’t see any sequels to any of these films (though I Am Number Four did pretty well oversees), that would make them all a proper waste of our time.
Director DJ Caruso makes incredibly stupid movies that feature a handful of decently choreographed set pieces (minus his debut, Salton Sea, which isn’t a great film, but one that shows definite promise), and in general I Am Number Four fits his filmography’s trajectory quite well. This time around he manages to keep the film moving a lot better than he did with Eagle Eye, but despite a reasonably impressive creature action (the ILM supervised special effects are the one semi-surprise in the whole film, and do stand out considering the middling budget) his scope and control over action hasn’t improved all that much, and producer Michael Bay’s influence looms heavily over this particular project. Caruso’s personal touch all but disappears into a sea of pretty faces and sexy, slow motion bodies. At times I Am Number Four looks less like a studio sci-fi action flick, and more like a Guess Jeans ad that threatens to break into soft-core gay porn at every turn.
The dialogue is painful, probably the one undeniably terrible part of an arguably awful movie (I welcome opposition to my opinion here). The actors, none of which come away unscathed, don’t stand a chance against this rush of heavy-handed exposition, heavy-handed morals, heavy-handed sports metaphors (seriously, the high school villain speaks almost exclusively in football metaphors), long winded speeches about feelings, and an ‘I can’t do this without you’ discussion. Oh, and pithy one-liners. When these fall flat it’s usually the actor at fault. This particular script (which I’d like to reiterate that it took three people to adapt this screenplay from a book written by two different people) would probably be better served by LOLcats than actors (OMG I can haz sooper powers!!1!), so it’s hard to get down too hard on the cast. That said, Alex Pettyfer, another pretty Brit who cannot keep his accent in check (though he’s dwarfed in this arena by Aussie Teresa Palmer), and another twenty-something playing a teenager, certainly looks the part of the handsome hero, but he’s about as engaging as a slab of granite. Only Kevin Durand manages to eek out a few crowning moments as the film’s marble-mouthed lead villain. It’s becoming clear that Durand has Ron Perlman-esque ‘crap into gold’ abilities.
So the movie isn’t too hot, but DJ Caruso has a secret weapon under his sleeve – cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. I am Number Four is certainly an example of the photography wizard in sleep walking mode, and it features an excess of his gold and blue trademarks (think of it as a less severe, less interesting version of his work on The Devil’s Backbone), but it still looks better than most dull, middle budget actioneers (Navarro had a pretty crummy 2011, including this film, The Resident, and the final two Twilight films). This transfer is a great representation of Navarro’s achievements, and features practically nothing in the way of objectionable issues. The opening scene is perhaps a little too dark, creating a bit of a black and blue smear, but the bulk of this moody looking teen superhero flick is dark without loss of detail. Whenever the image turns black enough to deplete some of the sharpness, Caruso and Navarro include some kind of heavy primary element, usually a glowing red or blue (the heroes and villains are colour coated for our viewing ease), to ensure we don’t miss anything important. The yellow edge highlights also help keep elements separate despite excessive blackness. Lighter scenes threaten to lose some of their sharpness in all the golden gelling, but there are very few moments where the front to back fine details. The transfer is at its best when more vibrant and uncommon hues come into the daylight scenes, usually in the form of wardrobe. There is some grain, as the film was apparently shot 35mm, but it’s rarely particularly notable, and I didn’t catch any major compression artefacts.
This DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio soundtrack is equally impressive, featuring every manner of subtle and extreme aural expression. Dialogue heavy scenes don’t have a lot going for them, but quite often light, realistic surround work will add a layer of immersion that just might trick some viewers into looking behind them. The bigger story is, of course, the action scenes, which feature a wide range of elements. The opening number is all about momentum, and the stereo and surround channels are effectively used to create the aural illusion of vegetation zipping by the viewers’ heads. Later scenes involve more bombastic blasts of force field power and laser guns, which lead to more LFE content, more direction effects (mostly explosions), and some reasonably cool sound design. The monster fights aren’t quite as busy, but dynamically speaking are probably the best examples of how good this particular mix can sound. The film’s soundtrack plays like the producers bought a 13 year old’s iPod, and licensed the top dozen most played songs. Trevor Rabin’s (former guitarist from progressive rock gods Yes) score is equally insipid and predictable, though the opening sequence themes do feature a few strong pieces. The music is mixed well, and can even be heard during the more sound effect heavy sequences, where lesser mixes would lose it in the jumble.
The extras begin with six deleted/extended scenes, each with their own director’s introductions (19:00, HD). Some of these attempt to stick lampshades on plot holes, and Caruso was right to cut them. The most interesting thing here is that Karen Allan plays Sam’s mom in one of the scenes, and Caruso acknowledges that her casting had something to do with Starman, a film this one resembles more than just a little. Next up is ‘Becoming Number Six’ (11:40, HD), a quick behind the scenes look at Teresa Palmer’s character that includes footage from the set and the film, along with director and actress interviews. Things end with bloopers and Disney trailers.
I Am Number Four isn’t very good, but looks good enough I’m sure the intended tween audience will enjoy it for what it is. The one definitively great thing about this adaptation is that it helped keep director DJ Caruso away from a Y: The Last Man film series, which could’ve been truly tragic based on his track record (to be fair, I’m not sure anyone could pull that series off outside of television). I hope Caruso proves my opinions and assumptions wrong the next time he steps behind the camera, but if he continues working on derivative fluff like this I doubt we’ll ever see whatever Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay see in him. Maybe he can take over the Transformers franchise when Michael Bay finally loses interest. He has exhibited control over CG action, and it’s not as if anyone could possibly make anything worse than Transformers 2, am I right? This Blu-ray does look and sound pretty close to perfect, however, so the film’s fans should be happy.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 24th May 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DVS 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French and Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Becoming Number Six, Bloopers, Trailers, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: D.J. Caruso
Cast: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Dianna Agron, Teresa Palmer, Callan McAuliffe
Genre: Action, Adventure and Sci-Fi
Length: 109 minutes
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