Blu-ray Disc Review
I AM LEGEND
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Original Release: 2007
Original Length: 100 min
Alternate Version: 104 min
Film Rating: PG-13
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Video Codec: AVC MPEG-4
Disc Size: BD-50
Subtitles: English (ESDH), French, Latin Spanish
Release Date: March 18, 2007.
Film Rating: /
Starring: Will Smith (Robert Neville), Alice Braga (Anna), Charlie Tahan (Ethan), Salli Richardson (Zoe Neville), Willow Smith (Marley Neville)
Screenplay by: Mark Protosevich & Akiva Goldsman
Based on the novel by: Richard Matheson
Directed by: Akiva Goldsman
I Am Legend, a film so infectious at the box office earning more that $550 million worldwide, has come to the three home video formats, DVD, Blu-ray, and HD-DVD. All three releases are different to some degree in presentation of special features, but they all deliver an awesome audio and video home theater experience. Home Theater Forum’s reviewer Ken McAlinden has reviewed the DVD here, and following his synopsis within this review is my impressions of the Blu-ray disc’s performance.
Ken McAlinden writes: I Am Legend is the third cinematic adaptation of Richard Matheson's 1954 novel of the same name. Preceded by the low budget 1964 Vincent Price film "The Last Man on Earth" and the 1971 Charlton Heston vehicle "The Omega Man", this latest adaptation is the first one to use the title of the original novel, but it still takes great liberties with the plot. Though, the basic premise remains intriguing and it is easy to see why filmmakers have been drawn to it multiple times. [28 Days Later, anyone? – Mike]
Will Smith plays Dr. Robert Neville, a military scientist and a survivor of a viral pandemic initiated by a failed attempt at creating a cancer vaccine. He is apparently the only living man on the island of Manhattan. His days are filled with a disciplined routine of scavenging for food, working on a vaccine based on his own blood's immunity, and trying to contact any other survivors with only his dog as a companion. His nights are spent holed up in his Greenwich Village home in order to avoid marauding bands of "Dark Seekers". The Dark Seekers are a fraction of the humans who have been infected by the virus who lived but were mutated into bloodthirsty bad CGI effects with an aversion to ultraviolet radiation that prevents them from venturing outside during daylight hours.
Smith gives perhaps the best performance of his career, and absolutely carries the first two-thirds of the film. He immerses himself in the character of Neville and is completely convincing in scenes with only limited amounts of dialog. To be completely honest, I did not know he had a performance like this in him, and did not expect so much from a genre film. In a few scenes, he exchanges dialog with mannequins and even makes them look good.
Aside from its lead actor, the film's other strength is the combination of production design and special effects used to create an abandoned Manhattan. There is something downright eerie about seeing familiar Manhattan sites completely devoid of people, and the filmmakers clearly put a lot of though and effort into realizing this cinematically. Another impressive sequence happens in flashback as we see the evacuation and sealing off of Manhattan early during the outbreak of the viral pandemic.
As spectacularly rendered as the film's vision of a post-apocalyptic Manhattan is, the special effects employed to render the Dark Seekers are a big disappointment. They look like the CGI demons that they are and never seem to belong in the same reality as the rest of the film frame in which they appear. The film would likely have worked better with actors in standard zombie-style make-up and cost less, too. I usually have a fair amount of tolerance for CGI beasties, but these are the most jarringly wrong looking movie creatures I have seen since Blarp from the 1998 Lost in Space adaptation. Whenever the Dark Seekers are lurking in the shadows, they are menacing and the film is working. As soon as you see them, the scene falls apart. [I couldn’t agree more. CGI may look good, but relying heavily on it for human-like creatures takes away from a truly frightening experience because they never do in fact look real. Of course, real actors cannot perform the ultra-human stunts that these CGI characters do. Maybe a combination of human faces on CGI bodies with the “less is more” approach would have worked better. – Mike].
Setting that gripe aside, the film's final third is not quite as strong as what comes before it. The filmmakers devises a completely different ending than Matheson’s novel and either do not try to or just plain fail to capture the fatalistic spirit of the original story. All that comes before is strong enough that I still enjoyed the overall experience despite a whiff of disappointment.
Did I say they devised a completely different ending than the novel? In fact, they devised two completely different endings than the novel. The second disc of this Two-Disc Special Edition includes an alternate version of the film that runs four minutes longer than the widely released theatrical cut. [The Blu-ray disc has the alternate version accessible via seamless branching. – Mike]. Billed somewhat prosaically as an "Alternate Theatrical Version", the only significant difference I noticed was the ending; it takes the story in a whole different direction. Without giving too much away, the widely released ending is more heroic whereas the alternate version has more of a cynical twist and also seems to be better foreshadowed by the events that preceded it. I did not have a strong preference for either one. [I much preferred the theatrical version’s darker ending. – Mike].
VIDEO QUALITY: 5/5
Warner Bros. continues to impress with their solid video presentations rendering all details for a reference quality video presentation. From the moment the film starts to the closing millisecond, I was suspended in disbelief. The detail delivered by the pristine source and extended resolution of the Blu-ray format is exceptional. Except for the CGI characters (eg. deer, lions, rats, and dark seekers), the real and CGI landscapes look awesome. Colours are naturally rendered in daytime scenes without looking oversaturated. Skin tones look fantastic and every white strand in Will Smith’s hair is clearly visible. The film relies heavily on sunlight and the darkness of night to create suspense. The warmth of dusk falls on New York without a sunburned appearance on everything in sight. Shades of darkness a delivered accurately, and I was especially impressed with the approaching darkness in the scene where Neville wakes up hanging upside down. It wasn’t too dark, and the feeling of the sun just falling below the horizon was done quite well. I was impressed even in the darkest scenes; when Neville looks for Sam in one of the buildings, the darkness created an immense sense of fear for the character and as a viewer. What lurks in there?
I can’t say I have any complaints with the film’s image presentation. If I were to pick just one, in some dark scenes the black level has been lifted slightly (much like raising the “brightness” control on a television) to give you the impression of being able to see into the dark details a bit better. It’s possible that whoever was behind the controls thought the original photography was to dark and made the judgment call to raise black slightly in these shots.
AUDIO QUALITY: 5/5
From the most subtle breeze, the chirping of insects, and the rustling of paper across the abandoned roads, this sound design knows how to be quiet and when. It is contrasted with loud moments with the most intense action – mostly when the dark seekers are in the picture. All channels are engaged and the sound design is clear, neutral, and dynamic. Music is recorded wonderfully but dialogue is not always integrated well. Too often Will Smith’s voice had the environment of a recording booth rather than the acoustics of his bathroom. With all of the noise in the streets of New York during shooting, you can be sure that most of the dialogue was re-recorded. Thankfully the voice was sync’d with the lips. All channels are actively engaged almost all of the time. Sound effects are recorded and reproduced with precision. Only once was I disappointed: the helicopter scenes. While voices were (accurately) difficult to hear when being drowned out by the sounds of the blades cutting through the air, the loudness and the ambient realism of standing beside a helicopter just wasn’t there. It felt like the realism was held back, maybe intentionally, but I doubt it. The overall sound was a bit dry and sounded too much like the acoustics of a dubbing stage rather than out on the docks by the water. One day we’ll get close to realism!! The lossless Dolby TrueHD is the superior encoding.
TACTILE FUN!! /
TACTILE TRANSDUCER ON/OFF?: ON
If you have the opportunity to watch this film for the first time with a bass shaker or tactile transducer attached to your chair and wired only to the dedicated LFE channel, you are in for a treat. When dark seekers jump out of nowhere and there is full-on physical contact when fighting, you feel the wallop in your gut. You feel like you are a part of the fight. You feel like you are hit from behind. It’s wild! I can’t wait to scare people with this one.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 2/5
The disc I received is Future Shop-exclusive steel book package. I’m not sure if any U.S. retail offers a similar exclusive package. Regardless, the discs all have similar content on them. What is available on DVD only by DVD-ROM is accessible as any other feature is on the Blu-ray disc, just without the downloading inconvenience. This is the Creating “I Am Legend" section of the disc that contains material just under an hour, all 16:9 enhanced SD. The snippets are:
Also accessible by a traditional menu is Cautionary Tale: The Science of “I Am Legend”. It's an HD featurette that runs 20 minutes and 41 seconds with available subtitles in English and French. It covers a number of topics relating to viral outbreaks, including Virus Research, Vaccines, Pandemics, HIV as a Case Study, Avian Flu, SARS as a Case Study, and Field Virologists Hunting for the Next Virus. It consists largely of on-camera interviews with occasional inserts of graphics. Strangely, it also contains a handful of clips from the 1995 film Outbreak. [also a Warner Bros. film. – Mike].
Interview participants from the film's production include Will Smith, Francis Lawrence, and Writer/Producer Akiva Goldsman. The remainder of the participants consist of several doctors, authors, and academics specializing in the field of viruses including Julie L. Gerberding M.D., M.P.H. CDC; Dr. Nathan Wolfe, Professor of Epidemiology; Mary Elizabeth Wilson M.D. Harvard Medical School; Paul Rota, Ph. D. Microbiologist, Division of Viral Diseases, CDC; C.J. Peters, M.D. University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston; Dr. Eric Delwart Principal Investigator, Blood Systems Research Institute, UCSF; Dr. Anthony Fauci National Institute of Health; Linda Rosenstock, M.D., M.P.H.Dean, UCLA School of Public Health; Don Burke Dean, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh; Dr. Michael B.A. Oldstone The Scripps Research Institute; Laurie Garrett Author, The Coming PlagueDr. Michael B.A. Oldstone: Scripps Research Institute; Terrence Tumpey, Ph. D., Team Lead Microbiologist, Influenza Division, CDC; T.C. Ksiazek, D.V.M., Ph. D. Chief, Special Pathogens Branch, CDC; Paul Rota, Ph. D. Microbiologist, Division of Viral Diseases, CDC; C.J. Peters, M.D. University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston.
The following four animated comics are also available in HD and have 2.0 stereo audio. As their description suggests, they appear to be a series of comic panels to which very limited animation touches are applied. Each tells a brief story about how the virus depicted in the film impacts peoples in different places around the globe. The titles, locations, and running times are as follows:
IN THE END...
So the CGI was a bit of a bummer and both endings were somewhat unsatisfying, but that doesn’t bring down my experience of this film. I do recommend it for the film as well as the absolutely outstanding audio and video presentation.
March 22, 2008.