I Am Legend – DVD Review

I Am Legend DVD
Available at Amazon.com

Making films from books is very tricky, since films rarely are as good as the books they are based on. The reason for that is simple. Books are normally way longer than any movie can afford to be. Much detail gets lost in the translation. But that doesn’t mean that a film can’t be as good as a book, though. However, when said book has already been made into two less than stellar films already, it’s tough to sell it a third time as a film. Unless you have Will Smith star in it, and have a huge budget to create a lot of special effects. Then, and only then, could you even attempt to sell a book like I Am Legend as a blockbuster movie.

In I Am Legend U.S. Army virologist Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville (Will Smith) is left as the last healthy human along with his trusty dog in New York City and possibly the entire world, after the outbreak of a lethal virus. For three years, Neville has tried to discover a cure for this disease and to find out if any other people might have also survived. But most of humanity has died and most of the survivors have been transformed into monsters. 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 his blood is also what “The Infected” hunt, and Neville knows he is outnumbered and quickly running out of time.

As mentioned earlier, the I Am Legend 1954 science-fiction novel from Richard Matheson was made into the 1964 film, The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price, and the 1971 film, The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston. But it is the modern adaptation of the novel that is more true to the book. The 2007 version is very dark, which is what Matheson intended. This film is a cross between an action film and an introspective, psychological thriller. It works best a psychological thriller, but the action scenes work as well. Unfortunately, towards the end of the film there are some big plot holes that don’t make a lot of sense. That prevents the film from raising things to another level.

This is Will Smith’s film. For the majority of the film, it is just Will Smith and his dog. Abbey, who plays Will Smith’s German Shepherd named Sam, is a surprisingly good sidekick for Smith. It is hard not to get attached to Sam the way that Neville does in the film. Smith may not have been the most obvious choice to play Robert Neville, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t give it 150%. Smith gives an emotionally intense performance that helps keep things together for the first two-thirds of the film. It’s the introduction of two other human survivors, Anna (Alice Braga) and Ethan (Charlie Tahan), that really holds I Am Legend back from being a great film. The actors do a good job in their roles, but they really shouldn’t be in the film to begin with.

The best aspect of this film, though, is the special effects. A lot of CGI went into making New York City look vacant and overgrown by nature. The opening 10 minutes is something to see for sure. It really sets the mood for the film. Unfortunately, the director and other creative people behind this film, turn this film into a more action one with big explosions and the like. That is fine, but the best effects go to setting the stage for the film and making the audience feel the isolation that Neville had to endure for three years. In addition, a little more time could have been given to create “The Infected” monsters. But there are worse looking zombies out there for sure.

This is the best adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel for sure. Will Smith takes control of this film and almost makes it a classic. But the introduction of some major plot holes, and the transition from a psychological thriller to an action film, prevent that from happening. Still you will want to watch this film for perhaps no other reason than to see the way New York City is presented. The majority of the film is emotional, intense, and excellent. But unfortunately the rest of it is just okay. Add that all up and you get an above-average entertaining film that could have been a lot better.

The video is given in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen color, which is enhanced for 16:9 TVs. The video is really top-notch here.

The audio included is available in either English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound, French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound, or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound. The French and Spanish audio are only available on the original theatrical version of the film, though. There are subtitles available in English, Spanish, and French as well. The film is mostly silent, but the dialogue that is here comes out loud and clear.

It should be noted that the single-disc version of this film features a couple more “making-of” featurettes that ARE NOT included on this two-disc version. They left out those featurettes in favor of the alternate version of the film. That is disappointing for sure, but the alternate version is worth watching.

Alternate Theatrical Version with Controversial Ending
The second disc of this special edition DVD is devoted to showing the entire film with a completely different ending. It is not as “controversial” as advertised, but it is definitely different than what was shown in theaters. That being said, the alternate ending is more satisfying and thought-provoking than the original ending. So if you had to pick a version to watch, I would suggest the alternate version for sure.

Animated Comics
This runs 21 minutes and it’s a selection of four animated comics, “Death as a Gift,” “Isolation,” “Sacrificing the Few for the Many,” and “Shelter, that are set in various parts of the world. They show how other survivors deal with the virus that has ravaged the planet. Fairly interesting, but I would gladly take the other featurettes on the single-disc version over this extra.

This film is dark psychologically thriller for the most part, which is when it is at its best. Will Smith is fantastic as usual and the special effects are amazing. You should rent this film based on those facts alone. The extras are disappointing, but overall the two-disc version of the film is better than the single-disc version, because the alternate ending is including on the two-disc version. Will Smith fans will want to buy this for sure, but it’s borderline for everyone else. Everyone should watch it at least once, though, and hopefully it’s the alternate version included here.

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Warner Home Video presents I Am Legend. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Starring Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Salli Richardson, and Willow Smith. Written by Mark Protosevich (screenplay), Akiva Goldsman (screenplay), and Richard Matheson (novel). Running time: 100 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released on DVD: March 18, 2008. Available at Amazon.com