Releasing Studio: Dreamworks/Touchstone (Disney/Buena Vista)
Disc/Transfer Specifications: Widescreen 1.85:1; Region 1 (U.S.) Release
Tested Audio Track: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Director: D.J. Caruso
Starring Cast: Alex Pettyfer, Dianna Argon, Timothy Olyphant
OSAGE'S PLOT ANALYSIS:
You know something? If it wasn’t for the absolutely moronic high school backdrop this film relied on – and, ultimately, the idiotic demographic it was geared towards – I Am Number Four would have rocked. There was, of course, also the quick sequence involving an injured “dog” towards the end, which I never like, and that also became a quick no-buy flash thought for me when watching this, but taking that out of the equation for a moment, this entire thing just smacked of Twilight-esque teen characters and, as written by some of the “brains” behind TV’s Smallville, a powerfully adolescent taste which did the production no favors, and ultimately made the film come off feeling like the pilot to a new teen-based show.
The absolute best parts of I Am Number Four were those displaying the wild special effects and digital wizardry during the fight sequences towards the end – if I didn’t know better, and was not made aware that this was just another girl-meets-the-heartthrob-who-ends-up-having-special-powers-in-high school satire, a la the absolutely gag inducing and nauseating Twilight, I could have easily thought this was a new super hero/comic adaptation if I had been dropped in the middle of those exciting end fight sequences. But, alas, because we’re dealing with Michael Bay in the producing seat (who seems to have become obsessed with catering to this stupid high school demographic of today via his apparent intentions to make nothing but continuous Transformers sequels) and director D.J. Caruso (who helmed the sickeningly awful Disturbia, also about some teens we didn’t care about who thought a next door neighbor was a serial killer – whatever), this picture comes off feeling like yet another big screen WB Network show adaptation – and that’s not a good thing.
The fundamental premise and concept for the film – apparently based on a book – was actually cool, and could have worked in the right hands, and if it weren’t targeting this aforementioned brainless demographic that infests our schools with their iPods, iGames, etc. In the “lead” role we have Alex Pettyfer, who seems like he took a page right from the book of Sleepwalkers in terms of that film’s lead teen heartthrob and his performance; backing him are Timothy Olyphant (Live Free or Die Hard_ who actually saves this film from being a complete mess with regard to the acting, the cute 'n perky Dianna Argon (from TV’s Glee; enough said about that) and Kevin Durand (from TV’s Lost) in a villain role. These “TV actors” that have been finding their way into feature films are really nothing of the sort, in my opinion; they can neither act nor entertain, and I simply have no idea why filmmakers continue to transport these “popular amongst the iPod crowd” actors from their Smallville and One Tree Hill et. al. realms into motion picture territory. The reboot and remake of Friday the 13th was a perfect example of this – that film, while decently nodding to the Sean S. Cunningham original, was absolutely littered with “stars” from these teenage-angst TV shows, making it feel like it was just a vehicle for these stars to stretch their acting wings a bit more. Personally, I think it’s nauseating and annoying – thus, we have the same thing here in I Am Number Four. The trailers and teasers seemed promising – and much like Battle: Los Angeles (which I will be reviewing next) and Skyline, I was intrigued and wanted to see it in theaters. The final result was indeed exciting in the action sequences, and in terms of action really packed a wallop – but the way in which the film was executed, utilizing grating, downright obnoxious “teen” stars set amidst a backdrop of a new high school kid that’s bullied by the school’s football players (yawn, done before) prior to him kicking some once discovering “powers” he has, just stopped it from being a standout title for grown-up adults living in the real world of bills, mortgages and child raising.
The film opens with a sweeping camera movement, whisking us into a remote jungle somewhere, as two adolescents are snatched from a bamboo hut of some kind – strange looking (but curiously humanoid in appearance) beings with the prerequisite body art and tattooing especially on their heads (a trend not only in Hollywood today but in real life, evidenced by some of the buttclowns you see walking around your local supermarket…with tattooed heads, that is) viciously attack these kids, setting up the vibe and flow early on. We then meet up with Pettyfer, who portrays the high school aged alien who goes by the name “John Smith,” who is seemingly hiding a secret amongst all the peers of his own age he meets – we witness a sequence early on in which John is in the water on some beach with a bikini clad girl when suddenly the markings on his legs illuminate and glow, sending him into some kind of spasm. The girl, freaked out, swims to shore away from John, who is still holding his burned leg, and the episode ends up going up on some Internet site. Big surprise. We then meet Olyphant’s “Henri” character, who is a protector of sorts over “John” and the underlying story of I Am Number Four is laid out with background narration by Pettyfer. Apparently, there are a colony of these special aliens who have nearly limitless powers and they have been picked off one at a time by the tattooed assassins (who look like a cross between the vampires from 30 Days of Night and…well…no – they look just like the vamps from 30 Days of Night!) who attacked the jungle hut in the beginning. These vicious hunters have come to Earth to kill the fourth of this bunch – hence the title of the book and film – of course played by Pettyfer, and it’s Olyphant’s character that attempts to keep “John” safe by continuously moving and keeping their locations completely secret.
Arriving in the town of Paradise, Ohio, “John” is unaware of just how powerful his abilities are becoming – he watches in horror as the palms of his hands illuminate into glowing balls of blue light, but feeling the raging hormones, apparently, of a human teen, he refuses to keep to Henri’s lockdown rule in their “new” house (a vacated home they decided to take refuge in, complete with a poster of Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar) and goes to the local high school. There, he meets the cute Argon, who plays the apparent loner of the school, and who is obsessed with photography. As his crush for her develops, John eventually has a run in with the school bullies of the football team – and as I mentioned, this premise has been done ad nauseum already in films, like in the aforementioned Sleepwalkers[ and the David Cronenberg drama A History of Violence, not to mention countless other teen-esque projects over the decades. The leader of these bullies, who is the son of the town’s sheriff, apparently had a thing for and with Argon’s character and isn’t taking well to John’s advances towards her. The petty underlying threats he makes are just sickening, and makes you want to kick this kid in his genitals and send him down a flight of steps. The plot begins to come together as John gets closer to his new love interest, and then meets the geek of the school, who has a connection to John’s past and home planet – in a weird, hokey way. Apparently, this geek, who is a UFO aficionado, had a father who was “taken” by the aliens he and his son used to seek and research (ridiculous, I know) and he ends up helping John against the predators who are hunting him on Earth.
As the film progresses, John’s powers begin to grow exponentially, until he is able to use his “glowing hands” to throw people and objects about, while creating a forcefield around himself, simultaneously flinging those in the forcefield’s vicinity around like a ragdoll. Meanwhile, two new developments take place – an iguana that got into John’s knapsack early in the film, when him and Henri were packing up from their last island paradise home, transforms and shape-shifts into a beagle, and begins to follow John around everywhere, seemingly as another “guardian” of his. The vampire-like creatures stalking John to kill “number four” have also begun searching for him with their enhanced smelling abilities, disguising themselves as hooded humans to shop in grocery stores and such; further, two massive, demonic creatures living in the back of a dump truck the aliens drive around with are fed Butterball turkeys (I’m not making this up) but to be honest, this is goofy, spoofy, syrupy sci-fi at its unabashed best. During a “haunted hayride” attraction John takes Argon’s character to in town, the football captain and his friends jump them, attempting to beat John up – but of course, his newfound powers prevent this, and we see some butt-kicking action from Pettyfer’s character with these powers, as he uses lightning-quick reflexes and fight skills to leave the kids as helpless lumps. It’s always refreshing to see revenge fantasies come to fruition a la Carrie or any number of other such kinds of stories, and here it’s vividly displayed, as John finally has his way with the head bully, nearly breaking his arm in anger for how he has harassed him.
An odd plot twist comes at some point in the narrative, and was a bit confusing, during which Olyphant’s Henri character is kidnapped by some people who have a connection to the geek kid and his “UFO beliefs” and tied up in a basement, an apparent trap set to lure in the creatures hunting him and John – I didn’t really follow what was going on here, and I thought it was stupid, especially considering that since Henri has powers similar to John’s, and as such it doesn’t make sense that he allowed himself to be kidnapped and tied up. At any rate, John arrives with assistance from the geek and Argon’s love interest character, just in time to free Henri from his restraints and enter a bit of a battle with the creatures hunting them – unfortunately, Henri sustains injuries during this skirmish, and he passes along the job of staying alive and away from these hunters to John himself as his body “blows” away as a dust cloud. The final fight sequence is set up, and that’s where I Am Number Four really struts its stuff.
During the film, we get glimpses of a leather-clad blonde chick who is always seemingly “surveilling” John and his actions – a character that reminded me very much of Scarlett Johansen’s “Black Widow” in Iron Man 2 – as she blows stuff up with high tech weapons and races away on fast motorcycles. We don’t know exactly who this tail kickin’ chick is – until John, Argon’s character and the geeky UFO kid take a stand inside the high school, where the vampire like hunters have tracked them down for a final standoff, and the girl shows up brandishing some futuristic weapons, belting the snot out of these stalking creatures. She reveals herself to John as one of his kind – number five – and she has apparently harnessed her powers to their full potential, as the duo take on the attacking creatures in the school. John, now nearly fully able to control and use his powers, does plenty of butt kicking himself, using his “hand beams” to throw around the vampire creatures and cut into them, as his sidekick utilizes her near-invisibility powers to beam right through the creatures and stab them with a special blue-lighted weapon. The entire end fight sequence – which takes the kids from inside the school to the football field where the creatures get their behinds handed to them by John and number five – is extremely exciting, and is on par with the action from any awesome comic book adaptation over the last few years, including Spider-Man 2, Iron-Man etc.
In a surprising twist, we learn exactly what the beagle who has been following John around – and who was previously an iguana – is, as when the stalkers unleash their demonic creatures to go after number four and five, the dog transforms into a massive creature of his own, ultimately to fight these other beasts and protect John. There’s a good deal of cheesy CGI work here, but it was ultimately effective as the sets were exciting – however, I didn’t like the fact, as I mentioned early on, that this “dog” is injured during his battle with one of the demonic monsters, and as such, when he transforms back into a beagle, he is whimpering and hobbling on three paws…as a diehard animal lover, as is my wife, we didn’t care for that aspect. But, fortunately, on a good note, the dog ends up being okay – hopping out of the wrecked high school with an injured leg, but otherwise fine, so it must be assumed as the geeky UFO hunting kid scoops him into his arms, that they were going to get him to a vet immediately to be helped. At least they ended it on that note.
I Am Number Four would have been downright awesome had it not been for the high school backdrop and aspect – I just couldn’t relate to, nor stand, the entire Smallville-meets-Twilight or 30 Days of Night vibe this film exhibited; I mean, we get it already…new kid that looks like a surfer reject from California is hiding a secret and comes to a new high school where he meets the hot girl and there’s a romance brewing there, but the kid has powers he must apply to….oh, forget it. I don’t understand why – even if the book suggested this age demographic – Michael Bay, D.J. Caruso and the others couldn’t alter the narrative a bit and make this better suited for an older audience. This is done all the time, wherein stories and plots are altered to better fit a certain demographic target or period – so I don’t get why it had to be set to the backdrop of high school pansies. Timothy Olyphant played a solid, respectable role and clearly, as I said earlier, saved this film in terms of acting. The decision to kill his character off was unfortunate and I wouldn’t have approved that if I was the filmmaker behind the cameras, but the action setpieces made up for that blunder. The final fight sequences were downright awesome, finally, for once, showing the heroes getting the upper hand on the villains, and kicking their butts from the get-go, as opposed to what we witness in most comic adaptations. In the end, though, I just don’t think this had what it takes to be a truly memorable title – it was an energetic, refreshing rental, but I am uncertain about a buy if you’re over the age of 10.
VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS:
Curiously, I wasn’t sent a Blu-ray copy of I Am Number Four by one of my editors to review; according to him, they were not on Disney’s Buna Vista division’s “list to receive a high definition copy.” Instead, my Blu-ray player upconverted the standard DVD one-disc edition to 1080p resolution, and the result sufficed well enough. I didn’t notice much compression artifacting, and colors were pretty solid, especially in the outdoor sequences on the tropical beaches and such. While the entire transfer remained solid for standard definition, you could clearly make out the differences between DVD and Blu-ray on I Am Number Four – without even having the BD on hand to compare. Where Blu-ray will exhibit that rock-solid, dimensional look in details like plants, trees, grass and concrete ground, the DVD looked somewhat soft and unfocused, looking downright flat in comparison to the better Blu-ray transfers out there. Furthermore, there was that typical unstable “twitching” in the background of certain sequences that DVD exhibits, most likely due to varying degrees of the aforementioned compression techniques. But this didn’t result in compression artifacts, as I said, just a twitchy dithering that came and went.
Blacks, surprisingly, were solid and somewhat noise free, with decent shadow detail, and facial close-ups exhibited respectable detail for standard DVD. Touchstone/Buena Vista’s widescreen transfer was in a screen-filling 1.85:1 ratio.
AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS:
The lossy, legacy Dolby Digital 5.1 track accompanying I Am Number Four more than got the job done – it has always amazed me, since the launch of the Blu-ray format itself, just how “efficient enough” the lossy audio schemes on DVDs were. This track was booming and engrossing from beginning to end, exhibiting wallops of deep LFE that I don’t experience on many DTS-HD Master Audio-equipped Blu-ray Discs. Dialogue was no problem, and surround activity was ample, with the fight sequences towards the end coming alive with ravenous, aggressive force through the entire soundstage.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATIONS:
I really don’t know…I Am Number Four was definitely entertaining, but as I stated a few times now, the whole high school backdrop completely ruined it for me. Many called this a film targeting the exact same brainless demographic that is drawn to Twilight, made by people who understand the Smallville/One Tree Hill demographic the best. Perhaps that’s true, but I’m tired of Hollywood churning out film after film after film geared just towards those annoying tweens that infest theaters like a plague, texting on their phones throughout an entire film and babbling to each other in incomprehensible drivel about “the cute guy” that “totally checks them out” at the local Baskin Robbins – I’m really sick of it. If you took that element away from I Am Number Four and added some serious narrative to it from the likes of more experienced feature filmmakers – notably those with experience making good science fiction – this would have been an easily recommended thrill ride.
For varying reasons, this is debatable as buy.