Will Smith’s vehicle I Am Legend came out this past week on DVD and Blu-Ray Disc. I finally managed to take some time (despite it being Easter) to work through it for a review. Read More for the details.
Note: This review is for the Blu-Ray Disc version of I Am Legend. I am unsure how this differs from the Two-Disc Special Edition – I expect the content to be similar.
Promotional 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.
Plot summary: A cancer-curing designer virus mutates into a lethal form, killing 90% of who it infects and turns most of the rest into “Dark Seekers” – devolved creatures with no tolerance for sunlight, extremely violent and purely animalistic, attacking anything else on sight. In an attempt to contain the virus within New York City, they cut off all modes of transportation out of the city, leaving those left to be infected, or killed by those who are. Lt. Colonel Robert Neville stays in New York, trying to discover a cure based on his own, rare immunity. Over time, he suffers from the lack of human companionship, as his only friend is his German Shepard dog. He does discover a breakthrough – but will the Dark Seekers find him before he finds the cure? And is there any world left to cure?
The Blu-Ray disc comes with two distinct versions of the film. There is the original 100 minute theatrical release, and a 104 minute Alternate version. No explanation about the alternate version is given, only that it has a “controversial ending”. I first watched this alternate version, then the end of the theatrical version – as far as I know they only differ starting at the climactic scene in the lab through the conclusion. I’m not entirely sure of what was or wasn’t controversial with it, but it definitely ends differently. I’m not sure which one I like better, but the original version seems to offer more hope for humanity in the future.
I have several comments/questions of the film….
First, the evacuation scenes seemed unrealistic. If you’ve got a suspected highly-contagious virus, you probably wouldn’t give time to evacuate and allow the virus time to escape (aside from how unrealistic it would be to try and contain a virus within a city like that). I think New York City, specifically Manhattan, is a common choice for such scenarios because in theory it could be isolated (think Escape from New York for another implementation), but it just doesn’t seem like it would work for virus containment. Too many vectors out. And the “instant zombie detectors”…yeah. If they have false positives, what about false negatives?
What is the liquid that Neville pours on the steps when he gets home, or on his jacket later on? At first I thought it might be gasoline, but he doesn’t light it and it would have dried shortly afterwards. I think it was to mask his scent, to help hide where he lived, probably to throw off any zombie bloodhounds.
Lastly, who did set the trap for Neville? He explains that the zombies have no higher brain functions, but someone learned from the trap he set. I think its implied that the Alpha male zombie set the trap, but he didn’t seem to have demonstrably more intelligence (at least not in the original version). And why wasn’t he there ready to get Neville?
Other than this and a few minor details, its a pretty good film. I don’t think it would win any awards, but its certainly decent. Will Smith does well showing how isolation has affected him over time, although it is perhaps a little uneven. It’s interesting to see the empty New York City – it was kind of like the recent Discovery special, Life After People. Even more interesting is that a lot of the shots were shot IN New York!
The packaging wasn’t terribly interesting, but I wonder if there is some limitation in how Blu-Ray discs are packaged. They all come in the same blue plastic folder. I hope its not some sort of license requirement that will stifle some of the more innovative packages out there.
The primary menu is static, with no advertisements beforehand, and only offers two options, to play whichever version of the movie you wish. However, during playback, it makes use of the BD pop-up menu system, where the movie continues playing with the menu up in the foreground, until you choose another option. The first menu displays at the bottom, and offers scene selection and special features. The special features menu is near-full screen, similar to a TiVo programming menu.
The special features include:
Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend: Scientific discussion on virus mechanics
Creating I Am Legend: Making-of feature. This was pretty long (roughly 51 minutes), and broken into chapters that can also be selected separately. Interestingly, these displayed in a 4:3 ratio, but it looks like it should have been stretched to 16:9. At least it looked better when I told my TV to stretch it.
Animated Comics: 4 comic-style animations showing events around the epidemic in Hong Kong, Colorado, Central America, and New Delhi.
I’m a bit surprised there wasn’t more variation in the special features. No deleted scenes, no outtakes.
Overall, certainly a movie worth watching. Perhaps less so a “re-watcher”, one you’d want to watch over and over again. I definitely think that watching the alternate version is a good idea, and decide which of the two endings you prefer.