It has been less than a year since I Am Legend opened in theaters, and about nine months since it debuted on DVD, but Warner Brothers has gone back to the DVD well on what has proven to be an incredible popular and lucrative film. Arriving just in time for the holidays, and on the heels of the first real details of the proposed prequel, this three-disc collector's edition is a reminder of what is both exciting and infuriating about the DVD market. For the most diehard fans of this third adaptation of Richard Matheson's seminal horror novel, I Am Legend: Ultimate Collector's Edition may have enough extra bells and whistles to convince you to shell out more money for a movie you're likely to already have two versions of, but it is something you should serious think about before making that investment.
For the record, even thought it has some flaws, I enjoyed I Am Legend. I prefer the alternate ending version that appeared on the two-disc DVD release in March 2008, and having now watched the movie several times, I find that the parts that work continue to work after multiple viewings, while the parts that suck continue to suck. That's to say that the film remains consistent, and holds up overall. Because I've already written about the two-disc release, there's not much point in repeating myself. If you want to know my initial thoughts on the original DVD release, check out my review elsewhere on this site.
A quick recap, for those who have yet to see I Am Legend: Will Smith stars as Robert Neville, a military scientist that may well be the last man left on Earth. Three years after a terrible plague has wiped out most of mankind and turning the rest into mutated cannibals, Neville lives in New York City with his pet dog, where he diligently looks for a way to reverse the virus. Years of solitude and guilt over having not found a cure have pushed Neville to the brink of insanity, while he diligently continues to conduct experiments on the infected mutants, with little regard for them as anything other than deadly lab specimens.
Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way--and again, if you want more details about the film itself, read my previous review--let's move on to the I Am Legend: Ultimate Collector's Edition. Exactly how is this box set different from the two-disc release earlier this year?
Well, let's start with the similarities. First of all, this set offers the same two versions of I Am Legend that were on the two-disc "special edition" release. Disc One has the original theatrical version, while Disc Two has the superior, alternate version and a digital copy of the theatrical version. In that regard, the Ultimate Collector's Edition is the same as the two-disc release.
The first of several key differences is an audio commentary with director Francis Lawrence and writer-producer Akiva Goldsman that accompanies the theatrical version. Lawrence and Goldsman discuss various aspects of the production, including how the movie began to take shape once filming began. As far as commentaries go, this is pretty solid. Personally, I was hoping for a bit more--maybe a bit more discussion on the book itself, or perhaps the many years the film spent in various stages of development--but to the credit of Lawrence and Goldsman, they both give a decent amount of background on the project. This is definitely a commentary for people who don't pay attention close attention to a film, because both the director and the writer point out all sorts of important details about ways the story and the character is developed through things like production design. Of all the new material that makes up this box set, the audio commentary constitutes one of the only major differences between this version of the DVD and the earlier double-disc release.
Aside from the audio commentary on the first disc, the only real differences with this new collection are found on the third disc of I Am Legend: Ultimate Collector's Edition. The original double-disc release had a total of 21 very short featurettes covering various aspects of the production. Originally, these featurettes could only be viewed via DVD-ROM; but "Creating I Am Legend" collects the shorts, packaging them in what is essentially a 51-minute documentary. And while that is all well and good, it is nothing new. The same is true for four animated comics and the documentary "Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend," both of which were included as DVD-ROM extras on the original double-disc release.
"The Making of I Am Legend" is a 26-minute documentary that is, by and large, a shortened version of "Creating I Am Legend." The key difference with "Making" versus "Creating" is that the shorter of the two features some of the animatics that were used in the production process. The animatics are cool, but at the end of the day, these two documentaries are too much alike, which makes the whole thing feel like a bit of a rip-off.
"I Am Legend: The Making of Shots" (26 min.) shows how various special effects sequences were put together. This whole collection includes something of a highlight of various sequences, and then individual segments that repeat much of what was covered in the highlight portion. If you hit "play all," you're likely to get confused, and wonder why everything seems to be repeating itself. It's because this whole part of the supplementary material isn't presented that well.
For some, the biggest treat of this release will be the twelve deleted scenes, with optional commentary by Lawrence and Goldsman. Most of the deleted scenes are missing crucial digital effects--one takes place primarily in front of a blue screen--which makes this less of a collection of deleted scenes, and more of a sample reel of material that didn't make it to the final cut. These scenes, which run collectively twenty-minutes, are interesting, but there are no real gems that make you think, "Wow, they really should have left this one in." And based on things said during the commentary, there are still scenes missing from the deleted scenes, the most notable being the "love scene" between Neville and Anna, which is mentioned several times.
The rest of the box set is rounded out by a collection of less-than-impressive material meant exclusively for the most dedicated of fans. A 44-page book full of concept sketch art warrants a single glance, as do the six "art cards"--which is a fancy term for post cards. But once you've looked at this stuff one time, you'll be left thinking about how this box set won't fit on the shelf with the rest of your DVDs, and how it would have been nice if the discs were packaged in a jacket that didn't keep flipping open. There is also a collectible lenticular--one of those 3-D looking pictures that moves if you turn your head just the right way.
As much as I enjoyed I Am Legend--and it has grown on me with each viewing--I would have to say that this box set was by and large a disappointment. The major reasons for investing in this set are the audio commentary and the deleted scenes, but neither are enough to warrant buying this thing if you already own the two-disc version. In fact, the only reason for investing in the I Am Legend: Ultimate Collector's Edition is if you don't already have the release that includes the superior alternate version of the film with a different ending. But if you have that version, then all the new material in this collection is interesting, but not enough to warrant re-investing in a movie you already own.
I Am Legend: Ultimate Collectors Edition is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture looks great, and I can see no visible difference between the versions in this release, and those on the double-disc release from earlier this year. The transfer is very good, with no visible flaws or defects in the image. The only real problem with the video--which is the problem I had with the other DVD release--is that the film itself simply does not look that good on a small screen. The epic scope of a deserted Manhattan and the attention to detail of the production design is lost on the television screen.
I Am Legend: Ultimate Collector's Edition is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital in English, with dubbed language tracks in French and Spanish, and optional subtitles in English, Spanish and French. The sound transfer and the audio mix are great. The film itself uses little or no music in several crucial scenes, relying simply on the ambient sound of birds chirping or Will Smith's heavy breathing, and all of that comes through clearly and audibly on both discs.
See the body of the review.
If you already own the double-disc release that includes the alternate version with a different ending, then don't bother buying this collection. If you rent it, listen to the audio commentary and watch the bonus material, you'll be fine. If, however, you don't already own the movie, or you only own the single disc version, then you should consider investing in either this or the double-disc release (because the alternate cut of the movie is much better). But considering the fact you can get the double-disc version for about $10 these days, you're better off making that investment.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]