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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: I Am Legend: Three-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition

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#1 of 3 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted December 14 2008 - 04:18 PM

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I Am Legend

Three-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition

Release Date: Available now (original release date December 9, 2008)
Studio: Warner Home Video
Packaging/Materials: Three-disc digipack and extras housed in a 11.5" x 7.75" collectible box
Year: 2007
Rating: PG-14
Running Time: 1h40m (original version) / 1h44m (alternate version)
MSRP: $59.98

 MAIN FEATURESPECIAL FEATURES
Video1080p high definition 16x9 2.40:1May be in standard definition
AudioORIGINAL RELEASE: Dolby TrueHD: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: English 5.1, French 5.1 (both Parisian and dubbed in Quebec), German 5.1, Italian 5.1 | ALTERNATE VERSION: Dolby TrueHD: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: English 5.1Audio standards my vary
SubtitlesEnglish, French, Danish, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish (movies and select bonus material)


In a serious case of deja vu, this marks the fourth HTF review of an "I Am Legend" release. There would have been a fifth if the HD-DVD had been covered. So I'm probably safe in assuming those interested in the Ultimate Collector's Edition (UCE) own one of the previous releases already and/or just want to know how the UCE compares. Consequently I have skipped the usual review of the film (which I tend to keep brief anyway) and focused on what's new and different in this fifth release. For the technical evaluations, I've included Michael Osadciw's comments from his review of the single-disc Blu-Ray, along with any observations of my own. If you haven't already, I recommend reading Michael's full review or Ken McAlinden's reviews of the two-disc DVD or three-disc DVD collection.


What's New
The UCE's major change from the single-disc Blu-Ray release is the alternate version of the movie is now on a second disc, along with some new extras. The previous release used seamless branching to present the alternate cut, plus was pretty slim on extras. Disc One now has a new commentary (which addresses at least a few of the complaints my fellow reviewers had about the movie) and the "Creating I Am Legend" featurettes are now in high definition. Other new items on Disc One include the HD theatrical trailer and "Focus Points" branching feature that accesses the behind-the-scenes videos at relevant points in the film.

The new (at least to Blu-Ray) extras on Disc Two include a making-of documentary, a series of featurettes on the visual effects, and several deleted scenes. Unlike Disc One, the only extra in high definition on Disc Two is the visual effects piece.

Rounding out the collection's special features are a digital copy on Disc Three and a trio of physical items that include a softcover picture book, plastic-encased lenticular card and a set of postcards. Though the storage box and the physical items are all well made, the overall size of the collection keeps it from being stored on standard DVD shelving. As with the similarly sized "Planet of the Apes" collection, the UCE will ultimately fit better on a standard bookshelf.


Video Quality: 5/5
"Warner Bros. continues to impress with its 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. Colors 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 are 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 too dark and made the judgment call to raise black slightly in these shots." — Michael Osadciw

[As one would hope, both versions of the film exhibit the same stellar qualities as Michael described. Though items got shuffled around for this edition, there's no reason to think it has adversely affected the quality of the video presentation, especially since each version now occupies its own disc.]


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." — Michael Osadciw

[As with the video quality, the Dolby TrueHD track for the alternate cut has the same excellent qualties as the track for the theatrical version. The subwoofer in particular gets some serious action.]


Special Features: 4.5/5
New items have been tagged in green.

[DISC ONE]
All video pieces on Disc One are in high definition.

Commentary by Director Francis Lawrence and Screenwriter/Producer Akiva Goldsman: Lawrence and Goldsman cover a lot of ground, offering an engaging and informative track that includes discussion of special effects, communicating with behavior and minimal dialogue, storytelling techniques, and the challenges and considerations of shooting on a location like New York City. They also make a few candid comments about the quality of CGI and address why they chose to go with CGI creations (though still motion captured) rather than physical actors.

"Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend" (20m40s) Provides scientific background behind viral pandemics and the threat they pose to our world.

"Creating I Am Legend" Featurettes (51m36s total): Behind-the-scenes video of the production, covering a variety of scenes and topics.
  • The Joy Ride Jump (2m22s)
  • Will in the Driver's Seat (1m46s)
  • Robert Neville's Psychology (2m03s)
  • The Story (2m59s)
  • Will Smith in Action (1m29s)
  • That Scary Place Inside All of Us (1m52s)
  • Shooting on the Intrepid (1m35s)
  • NYC Gone Back to Nature (1m49s)
  • Will's Physical Training (2m16s)
  • Creating the Dark Seekers (2m42s)
  • Evacuation, Part 1: Family Convoy (1m05s)
  • Evacuation, Part 2: Military Cooperation (2m01s)
  • Building the Pier (2m29s)
  • Canine Co-Star (3m26s)
  • Quiet Imagination (2m15s)
  • Closing Down Fifth Avenue (5m47s)
  • Evacuation, Part 3: Choppers (1m40s)
  • The Conflicts of Isolation (2m05s)
  • Trusting the Unknown (2m18s)
  • The Creatures Break In (4m55s)
  • Neville's Weapons (2m31s)
Focus Points: For those who don't mind taking diversions during their viewing, the branching feature makes accessible the behing-the-scenes videos at select points during the film.

Animated Comics (21m49s): Four illustrated pieces tell stories concurrent with the feature film's, taking place in different places like Hong Kong and New Delhi.
  • "Death As A Gift" (3m02s)
  • "Isolation" (6m36s)
  • "Sacrificing the Few for the Many" (3m30s)
  • "Shelter" (8m39s)
Theatrical Trailer (2m46s): In high definition with stereo audio.

[DISC TWO]
All items on the second disc are new to Blu-Ray. All video pieces are in standard definition except for the visual effects featurettes.

"The Making of I Am Legend" (25m57s): Documentary covers the requisite talking points and may feel like a retread after going through the other features.

"I Am Legend: The Making of Shots" Featurettes (26m04s total): Details on the creation of the film's major visual effects. Each piece consists of a presentation of key moments and then a quick explanation of the process and techniques employed to create them.
  • Visual Effects Highlights (10m02s): Includes portions of the subsequent featurettes.
  • The Alpha Male (3m40s)
  • Times Square Hunt (3m12s)
  • Seaport Evacuation (4m05s)
  • Alternate Ending (5m04s)
Deleted Scenes (19m45s total): Twelve scenes with optional commentary by Lawrence and Goldsman, the majority of which deal with Neville's interaction with Anna and Ethan.
  • Joy Ride (1m02s)
  • Sam and the Butterfly (31s)
  • They Set A Trap (57s)
  • Driving on the FDR (1m19s)
  • You Go Around the Door (2m54s)
  • Do You Know How to Shoot A Gun? (1m59s)
  • 5th Avenue Walk (1m13s)
  • Questioning Faith (1m25s)
  • Eat Fish On the Couch (1m24s)
  • Death or Life (5m45s)
  • A Haunting Sight (30s)
  • Hope (39s)
[DISC THREE]

Digital Copy: Download a digital copy of the theatrical version for playback on computer or portable video device. Compatible with Windows only.

[PACKAGING AND PHYSICAL ITEMS]
  • Sturdy 11.75" X 7.5" cardboard box with flip-up lid.
  • Softcover 44-page book that has numerous images of the city post-outbreak. Translucent overlays show what things were like before the virus.
  • Six art cards depict various international cities affected by the virus.
  • Collectible lenticular housed in a clear plastic block measuring 5" X 3" X .5"

Recap
Video Quality: 5/5
Audio Quality: 5/5
Special Features: 4.5/5
Overall Score (not averaged): 4/5

Are the new additions worth $20, the difference in cost between the UCE and the single-disc Blu-Ray release? Probably, but I can certainly understand the argument that many of the disc-based extras should have been included in the first place. However, based on the film's average reception, I think most will be fine without them, the single-disc release being sufficient when faced with the choice. So ultimately the UCE is somewhat of a niche product for only the most ardent "I Am Legend" fans. As such it should please them, even though it took some time for Warner Home Video to put it in their hands.
One thing leads to another at cameronyee.com

#2 of 3 OFFLINE   Peter Raber

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Posted December 14 2008 - 10:05 PM

Excellent review Cameron, as usual. I liked the movie which was a blind buy on Blu when it was first released, and while I would like to have those disc extras I will not cough up an extra $20 on top of the already standard $25-30 Blu-Ray price tag for it.

Now, if they offered a full rebate of the original Blu purchase price I would gladly pay the extra money, but otherwise it's thanks but no thanks.

#3 of 3 OFFLINE   Ed St. Clair

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Posted December 15 2008 - 05:32 AM

I'm OK w/this as long as the studios are going too treat classics like this as well.
Who'd hav tunk it, 2-3 yrs ago, three Blu-ray discs for an about avg. length flick!
Movies are: "The Greatest Artform".
HD should be for EVERYONE!