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July 1, 2008
I Am Legend Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
3/1/20087/5/2008Village RoadshowFrancis Lawrence
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
VC-1Dolby TrueHD 5.1MA15+Will Smith

I Am Legend has been in the development cycle for many years. In the 1990's Arnold Schwarzenegger was to star with Ridley Scott directing, but with production costs spiraling the plug was pulled. Then Michael Bay was signed to direct the movie with Will Smith as the star before they opted to do Bad Boys II instead. These delays haven't been too detrimental though as the passing of time has allowed this movie uses a tonne of modern CG to create a deserted, destroyed and desolate New York City. Something on this scale couldn't have been done a decade ago - at least probably not to such dramatic effect.

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Will Smith as Robert Neville.
The Last Man on Earth is Not Alone... 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. But he is not alone.

He is surrounded by "The Infected" – victims of the plague who have mutated into carnivorous beings who can only exist in the dark and who will devour or infect anyone or anything in their path. For three years, Neville has spent his days scavenging for food and supplies and faithfully sending out radio messages, desperate to find any other survivors who might be out there. All the while, 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 his blood is also what The Infected hunt, and Neville knows he is outnumbered and quickly running out of time.

The opening of the movie, as Robert explores the deserted New York streets and hunts for deer is engrossing. How did he get there? How does he survive? Finally, what has got him so afraid of the dark? When the zombies start appearing though the movie seems to loose some steam. The zombies are computer generated, and they look it too which takes you out of the movie, while the conclusion is, well, somewhat unsatisfying.

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The four dogs used in I Am Legend are brilliant.
There really are some great moments in this movie. The opening deer hunting scenes through the streets of New York are gripping. Looking for his dog in the abandoned building is as tense as it gets in movies. Finally there is also one very cool geek moment with a poster in the city with Batman and Superman, possibly hinting at an upcoming crossover movie between the two superheroes. Is this a hint of a movie coming soon?

I have to be brutally honest here and admit that I preferred the grittiness of 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later to this movie - especially when it comes to the zombies. In terms of raw actig Will Smith puts in a fine performance as always and he manages to carry this movie from start to finish on his own. It's pretty hard to carry a movie, but he shows the typical emotions; fear, joy and even some OCD/paranoia tendencies. Sam the Dog (who was actually played by four different dogs during production) is certainly a character in his own right.

As promoted, this disc contains both the Theatrical version of the movie and an Alternate ending. Without any spoilers these two endings are radically different from one another and it really is worthwhile watching both versions of the movie (at the very least, watch the last 15 minutes or so). Which one do I prefer. Well, I think I prefer the alternate ending, but it's still not great. Both versions are worth a look that's for sure.

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Just sitting outside, alone...

In terms of video quality this release comes up trumps. Using the VC-1 codec this 1080p transfer has been encoded in the films original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. In actual fact this is one of the most pristine, gorgeous transfers on Blu-Ray we have ever seen. Being such a recent movie there are no film artifacts such as dirt or marks present in the print and the film has a very polished look about it.

It must be pointed out that there are several scenes in the movie, including the opening ones, which are TV coverage and shows. This video is intentionally degraded to look like a TV report, and not a fault of the Blu-Ray transfer. Likewise there are moments in the movie which actually look very CG-ish and the Blu-Ray transfer certainly can't overcome that so it can't be marked down in that area.

There are two audio tracks provided on this disc, and each manages to impress. Most people will be listening to this movie with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 640kbps. Indeed the quality of the audio here is superb, with aggressive use of surround sound channels, and subwoofer. This is very much an effects driven movie. Every sound, no mater how big or small is used to build tension, atmosphere and a sense of isolation. Dialogue, when there actually is any as Will Smith is alone for the most part, is crystal clear. The scene where Robert goes into the dark, abandoned building looking for his dog is a prime example of how audio enhances the experience of this film. Check it out between 26:44 and 31:51.

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It's time to evacuate the city.
If you have the means though the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track offers the best listening experience. The audio is a little sharper then in the Dolby Digital track. As is the nature of the format the bitrate is dependent on the needs of the current scene, but in general the near silent scenes will run ar around 1.2Mbps, while the busier scenes will approach numbers of 3.3Mbps or higher.

Subtitles are only provided in English for the Hearing Impaired, French and Spanish. In terms of accuracy the English track certainly seemed accurate to dialogue on screen. I really do wish that Warner Brothers had included a plain English subtitle track as well.

Despite a monster production budget of $US150 million, and a massive worldwide gross of $US584 million, this release wasn't as packed with extras as we were hoping. No commentaries, no trailers, only brief sections covering aspects of the production. This should have been a feature packed release and we're left feeling that there's a special edition being prepped for release down the track.

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Getting close and personal with Will Smith.
Alternate Theatrical Version: Strangely to access the Alternate version of the movie you have to go to the Extras page first - you won't be prompted at the discs startup. This alternate version really only has a different ending, so skip to the last 15 minutes to see what could have been.

Animated Comics (21:50/HD): Four animated stories have been created for this release (think similar to The Animatrix for the Matrix movies). The four animated comics are Death as a Gift, Isolation, Sacrificing the Few for the Many, and Shelter. These were actually very enjoyable (with the very bloody Sacrificing the Few for the Many being my favourite) and much like The Animatrix help to flesh out the background and impact of the events in the movie from other perspectives.

Creating I Am Legend (51:58): Split up into 27 parts (and available individually) this is a rather lengthy documentary which looks at the production of I Am Legend with plenty of behind the scenes footage and interviews. Sadly this documentary is only presented in Standard Definition (although it is encoded in VC-1 for improved quality) with 192kbps stereo sound.

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There's not much to do when you're alone!
Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend (20:41/HD): A brilliant documentary which looks at viruses around the world, where they come from, and what the impact is including that of SARS and HIV. There is some link to the movie, and some footage shown from I Am Legend as well as Outbreak as well as interviews with people from UCLA and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Presented in HD using VC-1 this is well worth a look.

I Am Legend was a little big of a disappointment as a movie. It's not that it's bad, but after an interesting and engrossing opening segment the movie seems to go downhill before degrading into a bog-standard 'zombie' movie. At least this Blu-Ray disc offers great visuals and audio and a few decent extras. This is worth a look if you're a Will Smith fan, or indeed a fan of action/zombie movies.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyright© Village Roadshow. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.