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I AM LEGEND
Ultimate Collector's Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Dash Mihok
Director: Francis Lawrence
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 100 Minutes (Theatrical), 104 Minutes (Alternate)
Release Date: December 9, 2008

“We are his legacy. This is his legend.”

Film ***1/2

The opening moments of I Am Legend had me recalling the fantastic opening sequence in Vanilla Sky. You’ll recall in that film’s first scene, Tom Cruise drives out into Times Square, which is completely deserted, causing him to run down the street in panic. This film opens with a similarly eerie scene, only this time the entire city of New York is vacant for a reason, but the use of computer effects have done a riveting job of making the streets of NYC look as if they’re actually deserted.

This story, based on the classic novel by Richard Matheson, has been brought to the screen twice before in the form of The Omega Man in 1971 and The Last Man on Earth in 1964. Both those versions were good in their own right, but this one is the real deal in every sense. It’s a marvelously crafted and endlessly intense interpretation, courtesy of screenwriters Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman and Constantine director Francis Lawrence.

Military scientist Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith) has become the last man on earth. The year is 2012, and the human population has ceased to exist, all except for one. Three years earlier, a scientist had developed a cure for cancer, which turned out to be a major success except for one slight side effect, it turned people in to zombie-like creatures. Then quarantine was executed…and that’s how things got to where they are now.

Robert is the only person immune to the virus, and is attempting to come up with whatever kind of cure he can. He survives daily by hunting animals during the day, along with his dog, Sam. But once nighttime arrives, he must seclude himself indoors and away from the remaining infected creatures that hunt for flesh in the hours before dawn, at which point they have to hide from the sunlight.

The story structure of I Am Legend is one of the most riveting things about it. I went in expecting a straightforward narrative, as the trailer seems to indicate, but the screenplay eludes traditional storytelling methods, at least for this type of film genre, and opens in on the present and deserted NYC, and periodically revealing how things got to where they are now, as Robert recalls the night of the fatal quarantine. This story structure, for me, made the movie an all the more enriching experience.

The story also delves a great deal into Robert’s state of loneliness and escalating insanity. His only companion is his dog, whom he talks to as if she were a real human. He has also set up mannequins in numerous areas of the city to also engage in pseudo-conversations, such as a nearby video store where he rents DVDs alphabetically.

This movie is for Will Smith what Cast Away was for Tom Hanks, in that Smith is the only actor on screen for about 90 percent of the movie. Chances are you’d be surprised if I told you that Smith gave his greatest acting performance yet in an apocalyptic sci-fi movie, especially after his acclaimed work in both Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness, but it’s true. He shows a side of himself here that is most revealing, as we sense an increasing level of guilt in his character. To sum it up, whatever emotion Smith displays, you buy it instantly.

Though I Am Legend received mostly positive reviews, many critics seem to think the film didn’t have a strong enough third act. I disagree completely, as I found the finish to be as strong as the rest of the movie. And the reviews also made mention of what they thought was overdone CGI work on the look of the creatures. Again, I disagree, as I thought the appearance of these creatures was something a bit new and hadn’t been seen before.

With so many zombie movies and end of the world tales that have been made in the last several years, it is a surprise how remarkably effective I Am Legend is. Director Francis Lawrence again provides a unique vision, as he did in Constantine, and Will Smith’s performance will simply blow you away. It is a thrilling, gut-wrenching movie experience.

BONUS: Emma Thompson has a brief cameo at the beginning of the movie.

Video ****

Warner delivers yet another top notch looking disc with this release. The image quality is tremendously sharp and crisp, and the colors are simply astonishing. The deserted New York setting is all the more effective. Even though it’s more rewarding on the big screen, this grand looking presentation is indeed the next best thing.

Audio ****

Quite a remarkable piece of 5.1 sound. The movie has many scenes that are quiet, due to the setting, and those scenes end up being just as powerful as the ones with ferocious sound. The roar of the zombie creatures is another standout element of the sound quality, as is the final showdown between them and Smith. Truly outstanding!

Features ****

Here was a DVD release that was sorely in need of a proper revamp in the extras department, and Warner has thankfully done so with a tremendous Ultimate Collector’s Edition release. The three disc set includes loads of new extras, starting with Disc One, which includes the Theatrical cut of the movie, as well as a brand new commentary track with director Francis Lawrence and screenwriter/producer Akiva Goldsman, and a Theatrical Trailer.

Disc Two includes the bulk of the extras, including Deleted Scenes with commentary, two documentaries;  “Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend” and “The Making of I Am Legend”, as well as two additional featurettes; “Creating I Am Legend” and “I Am Legend: The Making of Shots”. Lastly on this disc, we have 4 Animated Comics; “Death as a Gift”, “Isolation”. “Sacrificing the Few for the Many” and “Shelter”, which show how other survivors are dealing with events in other settings.

Disc Three includes an Alternate Version of the film, which has a different ending, and a Digital Copy of the Theatrical version.

And we also have a number of great collectable extras in the package, starting with a 44-page concept sketch book, 6 art cards each displaying the effects of the virus in different cities, and a very cool collectible 3D lenticular.

Summary:

Though I Am Legend is big budget entertainment, it also happens to be a thought-provoking and effective piece, and even original at times. There’s barely a happy moment in the movie, but if what you seek is a top of the line cinematic apocalyptic tale, my friend you shall look no further. And this fantastic Ultimate Collector’s Edition marks a terrific reason to add this to your collection!

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