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WARNER

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Francis Lawrence
Cast:
Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Salli Richardson, Willow Smith, Darrell Foster, April Grace, Dash Mihok, Joanna Numata
Writing Credits:
Mark Protosevich, Akiva Goldsman, Richard Matheson (novel), John William Corrington (1971 screenplay), Joyce Hooper Corrington (1971 screenplay)

Tagline:
The last man on earth is not alone.

Synopsis:
Robert Neville is a brilliant scientist, but even he could not contain the terrible virus that was unstoppable, incurable, and man-made. Somehow immune, Neville is now the last human survivor in what is left of New York City and maybe the world. For three years, Neville has faithfully sent out daily radio messages, desperate to find any other survivors who might be out there. But he is not alone. Mutant victims of the plague - The Infected - lurk in the shadows ... watching Neville's every move ... waiting for him to make a fatal mistake. Perhaps mankind's last, best hope, Neville is driven by only one remaining mission: to find a way to reverse the effects of the virus using his own immune blood. But he knows he is outnumbered ... and quickly running out of time.

Box Office:
Budget
$150 million.
Opening Weekend
$77.211 million on 3606 screens.
Domestic Gross
$254.846 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (Theatrical Cut Only)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (Theatrical Cut Only)
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
French

Runtime: 100 min. (Theatrical Cut)
104 min. (Alternate Theatrical Version)
Price: $49.92
Release Date: 12/9/2008

Bonus:
DVD One:
• Audio Commentary with Director Francis Lawrence and Producer/Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman
• Theatrical Trailer
DVD Two:
• Alternate Theatrical Version of Film
DVD Three:
• “Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend” Featurette
• “Creating I Am Legend” Featurette
• “The Making of I Am Legend” Featurette
• “I Am Legend: The Making of Shots” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• Four Animated Comics


• 44-Page Concept Sketch Book
• 6 Art Cards
• Collectible Lenticular


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


I Am Legend: Ultimate Collector's Edition (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 11, 2008)

While actors like Brad Pitt and George Clooney scoop up all the tabloid headlines, Will Smith quietly turned into the most bankable star in Hollywood. You have to go all the way back to 2001’s Ali to find Smith’s last release that didn’t make more than $100 million, and it was always more of a “prestige” project than a potential blockbuster anyway. Smith did go through a mini-slump with 2000’s disastrous The Legend of Bagger Vance and 1999’s Wild Wild West; the latter did make $113 million, but it was expected to do much more and quickly became a much-derided bomb.

Even with that, Smith has become a Teflon actor, as none of his disappointments seem to stick to him. After a few flicks that pulled in millions but didn’t quite match up to their hype, Smith’s found himself on the opposite trend ever since the surprising success of 2005’s Hitch. That comedy outdid all predictions to take home $177 million, and then 2006’s inspirational drama The Pursuit of Happyness repeated the feat. It grossed a whopping $162 million, a very substantial take for a movie of that sort.

More was expected of 2007’s action/adventure I Am Legend, but that doesn’t make its success any less remarkable. In the midst of a crowded holiday release schedule, Legend took home $255 million and turned into that part of the year’s biggest hit. Indeed, it ended up as the sixth-highest grossing flick of 2007, and the second most popular non-sequel.

In Legend, Smith plays Robert Neville, apparently the lone human resident of New York City after its quarantine due to a viral plague. Neville hangs out with his faithful canine pal Sam and devotes most of his time to two activities: finding a cure to the infection and staying alive. When the illness spreads, it turns its victims into aggressive humanoid beasts. They can’t go out in the daylight, a factor that helps Neville, but he still finds survival to be a challenge. The movie follows his attempts to remain human long enough to fix this situation.

Although nominally an action-adventure, Legend reminds me most of a seemingly very different movie: 2000’s Cast Away. The connection comes from their essential absence of actors. In both films, we occasionally see other performers, but the lion’s share of the screen time falls upon one person. Each effort becomes that actor’s to win or lose; they can’t dog it or the flick will collapse.

In the case of Cast Away, Tom Hanks offered a terrific performance that carried the long stretches of solo screen time. For Legend, Smith gets a little more assistance; a dog offers better interaction than a volleyball, and those monsters create more of a visceral threat than chapped lips. Nonetheless, I think the flick demands a lot of Smith, so we shouldn’t underestimate his challenges.

Smith rises to the occasion splendidly. It’s funny to think that both he and Hanks share similar acting roots, as they made their names on sitcoms. (Of course, Smith already attained fame as a rapper, but his initial acting success came from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.) I suppose that’s a coincidence, but it’s an interesting twist.

I suppose that Legend includes enough action beats to make it less of a stretch for Smith than Cast Away was for Hanks, but don’t view Legend as a slam-bang rollercoaster ride ala something like Transformers. Long stretches of the movie depict Neville’s solitude and his day-to-day life. Some more adrenaline-pumping segments punctuate these, but you shouldn’t expect non-stop mayhem out of the Michael Bay playbook. Most of the film stays in a more reserved, low-key light that focuses on the Neville character and his situation.

When I went into Cast Away, I worried that watching two hours of a guy stuck on an island would become a dreadful bore, but the film actually offered an entertaining experience. I entered Legend with higher expectations, as I didn’t know how sedate so much of it would be. After all, it came promoted as a blockbuster action film, not a laid-back view of one man’s daily routine.

That makes the high entertainment value of Legend more impressive. At least I was prepared for a potentially dull experience with Cast Away, but with Legend I thought I’d get something more dynamic. Since I didn’t, I feel even more pleased at how interesting the flick is. Expectations can be a bear, and if you think you’ll get something action-packed and you don’t, the result might be even more boring. Legend confounds those expectations as it creates its own languid pace but keeps us interested.

Again, much of the credit goes back to Smith. He creates such a rich, three-dimensional character in Neville that he can carry long stretches of the film on his back. Smith ignores any urges to go down a stoic 80s action hero path. Neville isn’t a fearless quipster with an attitude. He’s a haunted man who struggles to right various wrongs.

And battle vicious monsters, which kinda makes things unusual. If I needed to find a flaw with Legend, I’d have to cite the surprisingly poor CG depiction of the plague victims. They look so cartoony and fake that I can’t quite figure out how they got past quality control. They don’t take me out of the movie, but they do create unnecessary distractions.

Even with that concern, however, I really like I Am Legend. The movie unfolds at its own pace and never feels rushed or like it throws out action just to avoid audience impatience. Above all, an excellent performance from Will Smith leads the way. I didn’t expect him to get an Oscar nomination for Legend, but I thought he deserved one, as he achieved something much more difficult here than with his other roles.


The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio A-/ Bonus B+

I Am Legend appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I felt very pleased with this consistently excellent transfer.

Virtually no concerns affected sharpness. In some motion shots, I noticed a smidgen of blockiness and ropiness, but both tendencies remained very minor. Even in wide images, the movie stayed crisp and concise during this tight presentation. Only tiny examples of jagged edges or shimmering occurred – also most noticeable during movement – and edge enhancement was absent. Print flaws stayed non-existent as well.

In terms of palette, much of Legend went with a lightly desaturated look. This changed for flashbacks, as those used more vivid and natural tones. Whatever the desired impression was, the film delivered clear and well-developed hues. Blacks appeared deep and firm, while shadows were smooth and nicely delineated. I found little about which to complain here, as the movie looked great.

Though not as active as most Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks to which I award an “A-“, I simply thought this mix was too strong to go with a lower grade. Given the lead character’s isolation, it used theatrics sparingly, as it usually preferred a quiet sense of environment. Those scenes weren’t dead, however; they created a good feeling of place and atmosphere.

Legend didn’t stay totally subdued, though, as it presented a good collection of livelier sequences. From the various monster attacks to the destruction of the NYC bridges to other explosive moments, the soundfield rendered them in an impressive manner. The mix used all the various speakers to good advantage and formed a smooth, impressive soundscape.

The whole thing packed a nice punch, too. Effects consistently sounded dynamic and vivacious. Quieter elements were natural and clear, while louder ones roared to life well. Music was similarly robust and full, while speech seemed distinctive and concise. Bass response proved particularly impressive throughout the film, as low-end showed tight, deep response. I enjoyed this track quite a lot.

How did the picture and audio quality of this 2008 DVD release compare to the original release? I thought both were identical. After all, the first DVD came out less than nine months before this one, so there shouldn’t have been a reason for the presentations to differ.

Plenty of new extras fill out this Ultimate Collector’s Edition, as the set greatly expands on the mediocre supplements found with the original release. In addition to the film’s trailer, DVD One gives us an audio commentary from director Francis Lawrence and writer/producer Akiva Goldsman. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They discuss sets and locations, story and editing, production design and effects, cast and performances, music, themes, differences between the theatrical cut and the alternate version, and other aspects of the film.

Both men interact well and turn this into an enjoyable chat. They give us a lot of good insights related to the production and keep the conversation moving at a good clip. This turns into a useful and engaging commentary.

Over on DVD Two, we find the set’s prime attraction: an Alternate Theatrical Version of I Am Legend. Warning: potential spoilers ahead!!!. Skip the next four paragraphs if you don’t want to hear the differences between the two cuts and comparisons of their endings.

I believe that the standard 100-minute cut and the 104-minute “Alternate Theatrical Version” are identical until approximately the 90-minute mark. In the edition fans saw on the big screen, Neville sacrifices himself to let Anna and Ethan escape with the cure for the virus. In the “ATV”, Neville realizes that the monsters have evolved to feel love. He gives back the chick on whom he’s performed tests to her “boyfriend” and the creatures allow Neville, Anna and Ethan to escape.

Thus Neville lives in the “ATV” but dies in the standard theatrical cut. The latter also shows Anna and Ethan as they reach a compound of survivors in Vermont, while the former cuts as Neville, Anna and Ethan drive out of NYC to try and find such a location.

The conclusion of the “ATV” accomplishes two goals absent from the standard cut. For one, it’s clearly a happier finale since Neville lives, and for another, it creates the ability for us to get a sequel in which Smith appears.

The ending of the “ATV” seems much more pat and silly than that of the regular theatrical cut. I maintain a little ambivalence about that version’s conclusion, but it beats this one. The interaction between Neville and the monsters gets goofy, and the happy ending feels trite and stale. The theatrical finish may not be as much of a crowd-pleaser, but it seems more natural and correct to me.

DVD Three includes most of the package’s new supplements, and four featurettes launch the disc. Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend goes for 20 minutes, 38 seconds and features Lawrence, Goldsman, the CDC’s Julie L. Gerberding, Terrence Tumpey, TG Ksiazek and Paul Rota, the University of Texas Medical Branch’s CJ Peters, the Scripps Research Institute’s Dr. Michael BA Oldstone, UCLA Professor of Epidemiology Dr. Nathan Wolfe, Harvard Medical School’s Mary Elizabeth Wilson, UCSF Blood Systems Research Institute principal investigator Dr. Eric Delwart, National Institutes of Health’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, UCLA School of Public Health Dean Linda Rosenstock, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health Dean Don Burke, The Coming Plague author Laurie Garrett and actor Will Smith.

“Tale” takes a look at the facts behind the film’s fiction. It gets into details about research for the film and details of various viral infections. I don’t expect fairly serious examinations of scientific topics on a DVD, but “Tale” works pretty well. Of course, a 20-minute featurette can’t become anything terribly deep, but it nonetheless offers an interesting discussion.

For the 51-minute and 21-second Creating I Am Legend, we find a collection of 21 shorter clips. These include notes from Lawrence, Goldsman, Smith, stunt double Randolph LeRoi, 2nd unit director Vince Armstrong, novelist Richard Matheson, executive producer Michael Tadross, location manager Paul Kramer, trainer Darrell Foster, weapons specialist Samuel Glen, 1st AD Jeffrey “JP” Wetzel, animal coordinator Steve Berens, special effects coordinator Conrad V. Brink, Jr., and actors Charlie Tahan and Alice Braga. We learn about action and stunts, character/story topics and the project’s development, cast and performances, sets and locations, makeup and effects, military considerations and working with canine actors.

The main problem with “Creating” comes from its disjointed nature. Since it compiles 21 small featurettes, it doesn’t spend a lot of time with any topic and it jumps from area to area pretty rapidly. Nonetheless, we still find plenty of good details here. Some of the material feels puffy, but a lot of interesting tidbits emerge along with many nice shots from the set.

The Making of I Am Legend fills 25 minutes, 56 seconds with remarks from Lawrence, Smith, Goldsman, Kramer, Tadross, Braga, Armstrong, Wetzel, Glen, Foster, and Berens. The show looks at story/character topics and the adaptation of the source material, research, location shooting and set dressing, pre-visualization, action and stunts, Smith’s training, canine acting and weapons.

After a commentary and the “Creating” featurettes, this set has already covered a lot of movie-making info. That means parts of “Making” become redundant, so don’t expect a wealth of new details. Nonetheless, it does get into some fresh topics and views others from different perspectives, so it deserves a look.

Finally, I Am Legend: The Making of Shots runs 26 minutes, two seconds. It starts with a compilation of movie scenes and then gives us a look at the visual effects required for each of them. We hear from two unnamed narrators – the visual effects supervisors, I suppose – while we see the various elements involved in the production. This feature gives us a nice glimpse of the effects specifics.

12 Deleted Scenes go for a total of 19 minutes, 49 seconds. The vast majority of these come from the movie’s final act. We see much more of Neville with Anna and Ethan, as the deleted scenes go a long way to flesh out those relationships.

Which may or may not be a good thing. Personally, I prefer the theatrical cut’s decision to keep the focus on Neville. A little of the Neville/Anna/Ethan set-up goes a long way, so I don’t think any of these scenes would’ve helped the movie. However, I could understand if some viewed the final cut’s depiction of Anna and Ethan as cursory, so those folks may place more value on these additional sequences. In any case, they’re interesting to see.

We can watch these with or without commentary from Lawrence and Goldsman. They provide basics about the shots and usually let us know why they cut the sequences. They offer some useful details here.

DVD Three ends with some components already found on the original release. We discover four Animated Comics. These include “Death as a Gift” (3:01), “Isolation” (6:35), “Sacrificing the Few for the Many” (3:28) and “Shelter” (8:36). These live up to their description, as they offer slightly animated views of standard comic book panels accentuated with sound. They vary in effectiveness, as some are better than others; “Shelter” stands as probably the best of the bunch. All are reasonably interesting, though.

A few non-disc-based pieces complete the UCE. A 44-page Concept Sketch Book shows a mix of images from the film. These essentially come without any text, though we do get before/after glimpses of some NYC locations. For what it is, I think it satisfies, but I can’t imagine I’ll want to look at it again.

More drawings appear via six art cards. These depict the post-plague state of six international cities. They’re moderately interesting.

Finally, the set includes a collectible lenticular. This puts a holographic sequence from the flick that appears to move when you tilt it. The Blade Runner “Ultimate Edition” provided something similar. I thought that one was a waste of time, and my opinion hasn’t changed for Legend.

In I Am Legend, Will Smith produces arguably his finest theatrical performance. His portrayal of a lonely, haunted plague survivor carries an entire film and makes Legend much more involving and intriguing than it should be. The rest of the flick has its ups and downs, but Smith is more than enough to make it very enjoyable. The DVD provides excellent picture and audio as well as a very good collection of extras.

If you don’t already own the original I Am Legend DVD and you like supplements, give this “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” a look. It’s not radically more expensive than its predecessor, and it adds many nice new components.

I find it more difficult to recommend the UCE for fans who do possess the prior release. While I like the extras, they’re not worth an extra $50 or so. This is a good purchase for folks with no earlier copy of the flick but it’s not worth a double-dip for most.

To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of I AM LEGEND

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main