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I AM LEGEND ($36) is the third cinematic adaptation of the 1954 Richard Matheson novel of the same name. Now, like its predecessors, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and THE OMEGA MAN, I AM LEGEND isnít entirely faithful to Mathesonís work, but this third adaptation keeps many of the most important elements in place. Additionally, many other genre films have taken their inspiration from the novel; its doubtful the entire zombie sub-genre of horror films would have evolved from George Romeroís NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD without the influence of I AM LEGEND, but I digress...

2007ís I AM LEGEND stars Will Smith as Robert Neville, a military scientist and seemingly the sole survivor of a plague that mutated from a virus genetically engineer to cure cancer. After years of isolation, Neville faces an increasingly maddening existence as the single human inhabitant of the island of Manhattan. Although he hasnít had contact with another sentient being in years, Neville isnít entirely alone. As we soon learn, the plague victims arenít quite dead, but instead the virus has transformed them into rabid, nearly mindless, vampire-like creatures. Due to their aversion to sunlight, said creatures only come out after dark, when they prey on anything immune to the plague. Of course, Neville remains well hidden at night, but occupies his days by searching for a cure for the plague, with which he hopes to restore the human race.

Will Smith has to carry most of I AM LEGEND on his shoulders and does a very commendable job. There is plenty of emotional resonance in Smithís performance as Neville; he elevates the film beyond typical horror fare. Smith really delivers the goods, as he is able to bring to life a man driven to the brink of madness by loneliness, obsession, guilt and regret. The cast of I AM LEGEND also features Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Salli Richardson, Willow Smith, Darrell Foster, April Grace and an uncredited Emma Thompson.

Warner Home Video has made I AM LEGEND available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. In general, the 1080p presentation is marvelous, easily besting Warnerís terrific standard definition release by a wide margin. Sequences employing visual trickery have been graded and slightly softened to make the mixture of live action and digital elements more seamless. Shots without digital elements can be sublimely well resolved, especially close-ups, which exhibit impeccable detail. Textures, individual hairs and skin blemishes are clearly discernible. Colors are improved over the standard definition release, although the hues do exhibit a dusty quality. Saturation is better in hi-def and the human flesh tones more true to life. Black are perfect and the whites appear pure. Shadow detail is first rate, while the contrast can occasionally push towards the slightly the slightly overblown side, but the Blu-ray handles it like a champ. Film grain varies from nearly indiscernible, to mild, and to slightly more pronounced; all of which, is dependent upon the lighting.

I AM LEGEND is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. This is a remarkable soundtrack, as it exemplifies the extremes of sound design. The moments of central characterís isolation are appropriately stark and desolate, with some great atmospherics. However, all of the discrete channels become fully engaged during the filmís interspersed action sequences, which are utterly killer. The majority of I AM LEGEND is made up of quieter moments, built around the central characterís lonely conversations with his dog. Of course, this makes the ear candy sequences more explosive and gives them a greater impact by their marked contrast. Fidelity is really marvelous on the TrueHD track. In comparison to SD DVD Dolby Digital 5.1 track, the TrueHD sonics are denser, more detailed and have a smoother, more effortless quality. The bottom end of the track really rocks, effectively shaking the ground and adding kickback to gunfire. English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the disc, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials. The Blu-ray Discís main supplement is an Alternate Theatrical Version of I AM LEGEND, which has been seamlessly branched with the general release version. The Alternate Theatrical Version is very similar to what was seen in the theaters, with the biggest differences between the two version reflected in the final act, and more specifically, the ending of the film. Personally, I feel that the general release version is the most effective, but the alternate is certainly interesting. Next are the featurettes. Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend is a twenty-minute exploration of real world epidemics and pandemics. Creating I Am Legend is a series of short behind-the-scenes and interview based programs with a combined running time of over fifty minutes. Also included on the disc are includes four Animated Comics, as well as Previews and Trailers.

While I AM LEGEND is not entirely faithful to the Richard Matheson novel, and differs THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and THE OMEGA MAN, the film truly works on its own merits, the strongest of which being Will Smithís performance. Warnerís Blu-ray release offers marvelous video and audio quality. Very highly recommended.





DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2008 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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