Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hunt down "Number Four": the witch-hunt for extraterrestrials ("don't ask, don't tell")

I Am Number Four”, from Disney/Touchstone/Dreamworks and director D. J. Caruso, is a somewhat manipulative resetting of the Smallville premise, a teen superhero (“Captain John Smith” played by 20 year old Brit Alex Pettyfer)  or future hero from another planet, who looks just like us. He wants to be good and productive in a democratic society (like young Clark, most of the time), and falls for a girl (of course) (Dianna Agron), and has a godfather  Henri  (Timothy Olymphant), dedicated to protecting him from interplanetary assassins, who look like tattooed freaks from a comic book.  In high school, he protects a science nerd Sam (Calla McAulliffe) from the hall locker bullies, and Sam turns out to be one of the movie’s strongest characters (so is John’s adopted pooch), who could well discover he is “one of them” himself.

That part of the plot seems artificial and set up (the concept of Phantom Zone in Smallville seems stronger). The idea that gifted extraterrestrials could mimic us while mixing in socially can be compelling, as in the NBC series “The Event”, but they need to have a reason to.

The first three immigrants from this other planet (“Gliese 581 G” maybe) have been tracked down by the minions and eliminated. Each time, John gets a scar on his body; the third one, in Florida (in an opening scene over the Key West highway quite well filmed) results in some disfigurement of John’s leg, which looks like it was partially shaved for the film (ask Ashton Kutcher about his experience).  In fact, he is dark-haired in the opening, and the blond hair is another disguise.

Henri has moved him from Florida to New Mexico and now to central Ohio, at the end of Appalachia. The credits say the film was shot mostly around Pittsburgh, but there is one scene that really looks like it was shot in the town square of Mt. Vernon, Ohio, a town which I am quite familiar with because of family ties. (I was almost expecting to see the software company Divelbiss in the area show up as a backdrop. )  John really wants the fulfilling experience of high school, but (like Clark Kent) has trouble controlling his “powers” as they start to appear.

Eventually a female Number 6 (Teresa Palmer) appears to help save him. By now, we’ve seen the pooch capable of expanding to mammoth size to fight newts matured into crocodiles.

One aspect of the otherwise silly plot is important: the Internet (and Facebook) issues. Henri tells John to keep a low profile and stay off the Internet. But he can’t stop other kids from photographing him and tagging his images on Facebook and Blogger.  But Henri deploys a Trojan virus that searches and destroys all these images. I wonder if something like that really exists.  Henri couldn’t reveal enough to hire Michael Fertik’s “Reputation Defender” to remove the images “legally”.

Actually, being able to find someone so easily and track them can be a big deal.  You can’t have a double life anymore.  You give out a cell phone number for business, and it’s also personal on the Internet, people know now what you’re really about, even if you’re from another planet.

The film also borrowed some other concepts from Smallville, such as “blue kryptonite”. 

I was the film in Imax digital at an AMC Tysons in northern VA, a moderately full auditorium on a Saturday night.  The Imax used the entire screen because the film was shot as a “mere” 1.85:1, which otherwise would make it seem smallish.  AMC has been using vertical cropping to show 2.35:1 in Imax.

The website for the film is here

Here’s a Hollywoodstreams interview of Pettyfer and Caruso. Note the forearm tattoo that wasn’t in the movie. You’ll find an Ellen interview Youtube too where he disrobes (“thmooth”).

Clark Kent, remember, was temporarily “disfigured” by the “S” scar in Season 2.  

Pictures: Kipton, Ohio (near Oberlin), about as I can get right now to the setting of the movie.  But I expect to visit the Columbus area later this year. 

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