The Establishing Shot: I am Number 4 Review

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

I am Number 4I first came across I am Number 4 when a brochure containing an introduction and excerpt from the book was placed in my shopping bag at Waterstones mid last year. After a quick scan I filed it in section along with those big print books I used to occasionally pick up as a teen in book shops that had flashy covers but turned out to be a part of a series of books about teen vampires, star crossed lovers and girls having adventures on their horses. Pffffft! Nouveau kids literature, give me Homer's Iliad, Odyssey, or Willard Price’s Adventure series or Robert Arthur Jr.’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators any day. I was sure it had a place just not in my bag.

Extraordinary teen John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) is a fugitive on the run from ruthless enemies sent to destroy him. Changing his identity, moving from town to town with his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant), John is always the new kid with no ties to his past. In the small Ohio town he now calls home, John encounters unexpected, life-changing events-his first love (Dianna Agron), powerful new abilities and a connection to the others who share his incredible destiny.

I am Number 4 teaser trailer

Back in December when I saw the I am Number 4 teaser trailer on the big screen. I was impressed - the teaser was kinetic, had a lot of energy, great (albeit a little cliche) visuals, intensity, kick ass bass and promised to be darker than I imagined - given that it was sure to be aimed at a that lucrative teen market.

My thoughts on the trailer for I am Number 4 at the time were :
Despite breaking the final stories into two in an effort to eek every Penny out of the franchise both Harry Potter and the Twilight money spinning series are coming to an end. And studios are looking for the next big thing to fill the forthcoming void. I was surprised to see there is currently only one boo for I am Number 4 – so I guess they’ll be written based on the success of each previous adaptation. Expect long winded scenes replacing story as in Harry Potter and the Twilight series as they try slow down revelations and plot till the last 15 mins in the build up to the next film.
But the trailer for I Am Number Four looks promising, but I would be surprised if the feature can maintain the energy promised by the trailer. The trailer feels like Roswell, Smallville, Push, Jumper and Twilight all rolled into one. Alfred Gough who adapted it has a long history of super heroes and TV this could be his magnum opus.
A little post trailer research showed that I am Number 4 is based on a book by Pittacus Lore. Yea, I know weird name, not surprising though - seen as Pittacus is from another planet and over 10,000 years old. In fact Pittacus is from Lorien the same planet as the “numbers” and has super powers or Legacies as they are called in the Lorien universe. So if successful you can expect Pittacus Lore to turn up in the books and on screen at some point.

So is I am Number 4 worth your money at the box office?

OK! The gist of it is that I am Number 4 is not all encompassingly original and from the out set you know what you are getting - A reluctant young hero who has yet to find his inner power or rather his Legacies. Young love. Pure hearted allies and a seemingly unstoppable dark enemy grinding their way towards them, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. - As well as surprises galore.

The magic of I am Number 4 is that although the core elements are known’s the story cleverly rolls out at a pace and in a way that you are kept engaged and interested throughout. In fact none of the above even occurred to me until after the screening as I was too occupied with being swept away and my surprise at just how much I was enjoying it.

Even some of the story that might be perceived as having been done before is presented in a way that makes sense within the Lorien universe, cleverly removing these elements from genericism and giving them a place in the I am Number 4 mythology.

However when elements pop up that point to a gap in the logic of the story they are made more frustrating as they seem so incongruent with the rest of the cleverly constructed narrative. For instance John/Number 4’s (Alex Pettyfer) guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant) an intelligent and skilful warrior seems to have taught him nearly nothing in the 16 or so years preceding the film starting. Now it could just be me but given the seriousness of their situation you would think that Henri would have already gone through every conceivable scenario in preparation for what may possibly occur. Or at least one. But no. Now it could be a supposed subtle cultural difference in our 2 cultures (Earth - Lorien) that I’m missing but, really it just comes across as a logic gap.

Which is a shame as the dynamics of relationship between 4 (Alex Pettyfer) and guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant) are pretty sound as the reluctant father figure and rebellious “son”. Both Pettyfer and Olyphant bring intensity to the situation.

This may seem like I’m labouring a point but this inconsistency has repercussions that echo throughout 4’s behaviour, priorities and situations he finds himself in. That aside I enjoyed Alex Pettyfer’s interpretation of an intense extraordinary individual that really wants to fit in and be a normal kid. Something that is brought home in a touching and possibly the best scene in the film for me - when 4 is introduced to his crushes - Sarah (Dianna Agron) parents. Nowhere else is his otherworldliness and yearning to be normal more potent.

Something else I really enjoyed about I am Number 4 is their take on the reluctant hero. We have seen many variations of the super powered hero but yet to see one where the hero acts on his urges employing his powers without consideration for consequence. After years of super powered individuals needing added dramatised tension of hiding their powers (or identities) it’s refreshing to see someone on the side of good (usually only the villains get to flex their powers so brazenly). And when 4 uses his burgeoning powers I couldn’t help but enjoy every moment.

Regarding the villains of the piece. There are enough creatures to keep anyone happy. But the stand out performance is from Kevin Durand as the Mogadorian Commander. He brings both humour as well as off world detachment to the role. He plays it like the bastard love child of Kurgan and Lord Whorfin.

My initials concern about I am Number 4 was that it would feel like I was watching a Harry Potter or Twilight film with the obligatory trying to stretch scenes for as long as they can to make a fairly straight forward story last across a franchise. But I am Number 4 plays it a different way it’s a great coming of age tale as well as a good Super Hero story. It feels more like Heroes mixed with Dr Xavier’s School for Mutants mixed with Smallville but still keeps it fresh. No easy task given that teen adventures have almost been covered in almost every way shape and form.

I am Number 4 is a very well made film. It’s slick and polished as you would hope from a Producing team that includes Steven Spielberg (un-credited) and Michael Bay (originally attached to direct). Director D.J Caruso really ups his game. I say that because for some reason all of his previous efforts have been flawed for me - some less so like The Salton Sea and Taking Lives and some irreparably so, like; Eagle Eye & Disturbia. I should point out that even though he is involved it doesn’t suffer from the Michael Bay "too much boom, bang, flash and not enough story or emotion" syndrome but seems to have benefited from Bay’s knowledge of creating believable special effects.

I am Number 4 won’t win an Oscar but it’s not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon with the kids and some popcorn. I’m hoping to see 4’s more grown up next adventure up on the screen soon. As a comparison after watching the first Harry Potter and Twilight film I wasn’t as interested in seeing a sequel.

I am Number 4

Director: D.J. Caruso
Writers: Alfred Gough & Miles Millar
Stars: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Kevin Durand

I am Number 4 is on UK screens right now from today Weds, 23 February, 2011

The Establishing Shot: I am Number 4 Review