What would you do if you were the last person left on earth? Better yet, what would you do if you were the only person left on earth after a viral apocalypse ravaged humanity, and you had to live with the fact that you were the one scientist who could’ve stopped the pandemic? Would you be overwhelmed by the responsibility of your situation and succumb to death, or would you embrace your lonely struggle? If you’re Robert Neville (Will Smith) in I Am Legend, you weather the storms of your nightmares, find hope and friendship in your dog Sam, and use your resourcefulness and intelligence to simply survive.
Loosely based on Robert Matheson’s 1954 novel of the same name, Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend changes the setting from L.A. to New York, where we join Neville in a desolated NYC approximately three years after the virus goes airborne. Neville’s daily exploits consist of a tightly regimented routine, which no doubt serves to protect his sanity, and includes such activities as hunting animals in the empty streets, “borrowing” DVDs from a video store, hitting golf balls from the tail of a fighter jet, and treating Sam like a real person with lines like, “Eat your vegetables. Don't just push 'em around, eat 'em. I ain't playin!”
An arguably larger and more important aspect of Neville’s routine is made up by his efforts to keep safe from the Dark-Seekers – the 9% of the population who survived the KV virus by becoming an abominate vampire-zombie hybrid whose only enemy is ultra-violet light. The Dark-Seekers function as both a threat to Neville’s everyday survival and a constant reminder of his past and present failures - then, to stop the spread of the deadly virus, and now, to find a vaccine.
This combination of Neville’s psychological and physical exertion to overcome the incredibly difficult circumstances he’s faced with is undoubtedly I Am Legend’s greatest strength. And who better to attribute this facet to than Will Smith, who does a fantastic job in creating the extremely real character of Robert Neville. As the audience of a sci-fi film, all we can do to judge the film’s realism is put ourselves in the main character’s shoes and then assess whether or not they’re behaving in a credibly believable manner. And in this regard, Smith succeeds in achieving realism through Neville by perfectly fusing a relenting desire to survive and succeed with a fragile fear and desperation that lurks just beneath the surface of his psyche. Initially, it might appear that Smith plays Neville with too much of a happy-go-lucky persona for the last man on earth, but the true strength of the performance exists in the ever present terror and trepidation that he stifles down with every his every move, thought and breath.
In addition to Smith’s acting chops, I Am Legend also boasts some great action scenes, quite a few thrilling visuals, its fair share of dramatic moments, a few laughs, and one of the most suspenseful scenes of the year. The seven minutes that follow Sam racing into the pitch-black darkness of a warehouse are expertly crafted and on par with the most tense sequences from No Country for Old Men. Director Francis Lawrence, who really only has the forgettable Constantine under his belt, shows that with better material and a good actor he can produce a decent film. However, I Am Legend is not a perfect film, as there are a few groan inducing scenes, some minor thematic inconsistencies, and a definite sense that it could’ve been a disaster without Will Smith. But it succeeds in spite of its flaws and in the end it offers solid entertainment, a poignant story with a surprisingly unflinching delivery, and a thought provoking conclusion.
At the very least, I Am Legend offers a great deal more than your average blockbuster, and it’s this deviation from the normal Hollywood schlock that elevates it into a successful mish-mash of the isolation of Cast Away and the post-apocalypticism of 28 Days Later. So if you’re a fan of either one of these films, the genres they put forth, the themes they evince, or even just of Will Smith, then I Am Legend is a film you’ll surely enjoy.
The audio and visual quality of I Am Legend’s Blu-ray disc is nothing short of spectacular, with the sci-fi special effects, expert CGI, and on location NYC filming offering Blu-ray the perfect opportunity to showcase its next-gen stuff. The barren streets of New York appear powerfully crisp and clear, as does Will Smith’s face (which you’ll see quite often). The soundtrack provides an elite home theater experience that utilizes the fronts, rears and woofer optimally in bringing the sounds of I Am Legend to your living room.
With more extras than both the standard DVD and HD-DVD releases, I Am Legend’s Blu-ray offers the most bang for your buck. It’s got over an hour and a half of special features and an alternate version of the film (complete with a different ending), which is a fair amount of extra material, especially for an initial release.
The first feature, “Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend” has the potential to be dry and boring, but thankfully it’s short and sweet enough that it should be of at least some interest to anyone who liked the film. “Cautionary Tale” provides the insight of various viral experts who comment on the similarities between I Am Legend’s KV virus and our own HIV and flu viruses. In addition, the sharpest epidemiology minds try to scare us by theorizing about the possible pandemics of the future. It really is interesting stuff and for once, the scientists aren’t too monotonous.
The second and most extensive feature is the 55 minute documentary “Creating I Am Legend”, which offers 20 different segments ranging from Will Smith’s physical preparation for the film to all the hard work it took to film on an empty 5th Avenue. Smith, Lawrence, and producer Akiva Goldsmith give commentary throughout most of the doc -- and it’s meaningful commentary too, not just the garden variety self-congratulations that often permeates “making-of” special features. Do yourself a favor and watch this one because it’s well worth the time.
The third feature will probably go ignored by most people, but I implore you to give it a chance. “Animated Comics” contains four comics created specifically to underscore the prevalent themes in I Am Legend and also to paint an imaginative picture of the affects of a world-wide KV virus pandemic. “Death as a Gift," "Isolation," "Sacrificing the Few for the Many," and "Shelter" are relatively short, very well rendered, and surprisingly effective, especially if watched immediately following the film. At the very least, watch the first two instead of simply writing them off as irrelevant.
The final aspect of the disc portion is the aforementioned alternate cut of the film, which really amounts to a few deleted scenes and a drastically different ending. I must say, I much prefer the theatrical ending (which I was very satisfied by), as the tone and atmosphere of the film is quite tarnished by the alternate conclusion. However, I do appreciate the integrated nature of this second cut of the film, because if you have the time, it provides a much greater experience than a dreaded deleted scenes feature.
Overall, the I Am Legend Blu-ray disc delivers a top-notch high-definition experience, and of the thirty-something Blu-rays I own, it is undoubtedly one of my favorites. Boasting pristine audio and visual transfers, a better than average blockbuster film, and an excellent special features section, I Am Legend is a must own.