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