A brilliant scientist, Robert Neville, is possibly the last human survivor of a deadly man-made virus that has decimated the world. But he is not alone in what remains of New York City. As Neville desperately seeks a cure and sends out radio messages seeking other survivors, he is constantly threatened by victims of the plague who have mutated into carnivorous predators.
Revisiting I Am Legend after some years reminded me of just how inventively Lawrence and his production team realized Robert Neville’s decaying metropolis. The CG-enhanced vistas of Manhattan going to seed and overrun by wildlife look spectacularly detailed on this 4K presentation, with deep blacks, strong contrast and fine detail that enhances both long shots of wrecked vehicles and crumbling buildings, as well as closeups of Neville’s anguished face and the makeshift fortress he has constructed in his downtown brownstone. Colors are rich, strong and vibrant, e.g., the greenery that is gradually taking over the street (and also Neville’s cultivated fields), the bright red of Neville’s vehicle (and also of the helicopter in which, in flashback, his family tries to escape), and the multi-colored costumes in which the lonely soul has dressed the mannequins he uses as company. The computer-generated “dark seekers” who are hunting Neville still look less than convincing, but that is a limitation of the original CG animation.
Now, the interesting question is how much of the video improvement in I Am Legend’s 2160p, HEVC/H.265-encoded UHD presentation is attributable to 4K and HDR and how much to improved authoring. Since the film was finished on a digital intermediate at 2K, the UHD is an up-conversion. However, the previous Blu-rays were early Warner releases, encoded with VC-1 at low average bitrates of under 17 Mbps, and it is possible (indeed, likely) that some degree of high frequency filtering was applied to those masters, as was all-too-common in the format’s early years. Regardless of the reason, however, the UHD presentation of I Am Legend represents a notable upgrade over its previous Blu-ray iterations.
A final note, which I am borrowing from one of my esteemed colleagues: I’d caution against any comparison of my scores on this release with scores of the previous Blu-rays. There’s no guarantee I would have scored those discs the same way Marty did, and conversely Marty might very well have scored this release differently than I have.