Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
February 2011

Please don't make a sequel

'I Am Number Four' goes out of its way to be weightless and inoffensive

I Am Number Four
Walt Disney Pictures
Director: D.J. Caruso
Screenplay: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar and Marti Noxon, based on the novel by Pittacus Lore
Starring: Alex Pettyfer, Dianna Argon, Timothy Olyphant, Callan McAuliffe, Teresa Palmer and Kevin Durand
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 49 minutes
Opened February 18, 2011
(out of four)

It should be clear to pretty much anyone that I Am Number Four is a transparent attempt to manufacture another cash-cow franchise in the vein of Twilight. The bland, inoffensive teen heartthrobs, the forces of nature keeping them apart, the battle between two supernatural races.

I mean, this movie even stars Teresa Palmer, who's like a hotter, blonde version of Kristen Stewart.

So the parallels can't be avoided no matter how hard you try. The biggest difference is, I Am Number Four is much more innocuous, and in a calculated way. While the Twilight series wears its vapid, emotionally stunted heart on its sleeve while pandering to a gullible audience, this film is more streamlined. It's simply concerned with catering to as wide an audience of young people as it can get its hands on.

You can almost see the studio covering all its bases one by one. Tons of ingredients, but not too much of any one in particular. In short, it's vanilla by design. Romance for the romantics - but not so much that it gets gooey. Action for the masses - but not so much that it turns into a Michael Bay Joint. Aliens and conspiracies for the sci-fi nerds. Superpowers for the comic-book nerds. Hallway high-school drama for the teenagers. Family values for the parents. Eye candy for everyone, but only the occasional hint of actual sexiness. Bits of comic relief, but no actual sense of humor.

The short description would be to say that it's like Twilight meets X-Men. So let's just go with that if it makes it easier.

The film focuses on "John Smith" - he's Number Four, you see - a "Lorien" whose people are being hunted down by the odious Mogadorians, who destroyed the Lorians' home planet several years ago and are after the few remaining survivors. Nine were sent to Earth - each accompanied by a guardian - but they've been hunted ever since. For some unexplained reason, they have to be killed sequentially, and the first three are now dead.

For this reason, John's guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), keeps the two of them on the move as often as possible. If John is ever identified, he's in trouble. If they get noticed in one town, they move on to the next. "Be invisible" is Henri's philosophy. (Which would be much easier, of course, if invisibility was one of John's powers, but alas . . .)

But at a certain point, fate has to catch up to them, doesn't it? After all, it's not like the Mogadorians are going to keep coming no matter what. As it happens, fate comes once John and Henri settle in Paradise, Ohio - home to an emotionally erratic high-school bully/star quarterback, the put-upon teenage son of a conspiracy theorist who years ago theorized that extraterrestrials were coming to Earth, and the object of John's affection, Sarah (Dianna Agron), who's well on her way to being a hipster.

Eventually we meet Number Six (Palmer), who's kind of like the Mad Max of the Lorians, stylish leather garb and all. I imagine we'll see more of her if any sequels are greenlit. One thing I'm curious about is whether or not the books and films keep their focus on John/Number Four throughout, or have different narratives focusing specifically on the others. In other words, will I Am Number Six focus on her backstory, or will it simply pick up wherever I Am Number Five (or even this film) leaves off?

Or perhaps I'm just way off-base altogether. I suppose I'll find out one way or another if the sequels ever get made.

Also, one question: If the Lorians have to be killed sequentially, then why is Number Six in any danger at all during the action-packed climax? Wouldn't she be immortal until Four and Five are dead and gone? I know, I'm sure such matters are explained in the books, but the film version's only attempt at explanation is awful opening and closing narration that gives us only the sparest of details.

As for the aforementioned action, that's where the film runs into more problems - as if the dreary dialogue and overall weightlessness of it weren't bad enough. D.J. Caruso is simply not an especially strong action director. I actually quite liked the choreography of the film's action, but was unimpressed by the way it was filmed. Shots are often far too tight and the editing too rapid. Those are common complaints, but it stands out more in this case because the setpieces have good ideas within them - they're just not given the visual showcase they deserve.

No doubt there could have been worse Twilight successors than I Am Number Four. But that's not exactly paying this series a compliment. The first entry, at least, is far too banal, and time and again just makes no logistical sense whatsoever. In fact, the confusing logistics and narrative holes could have made up an entire review on their own. But trust me - 900 words on this movie is as much as it deserves.

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