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‘I Am Number Four’ proves surprisingly effective sci-fi

By Gordy Stillman

Section: Arts

March 4, 2011

“I Am Number Four” is exactly what it appears to be at first glance in its frequently shown trailer: a sci-fi film with a relationship subplot based on an early teen-oriented book series. It’s no “Harry Potter,” but it’s surprisingly engaging.

What first drew my attention was the premise and backstory of the movie. A group of nine gifted children, each with a guardian, arrive on Earth from the planet Lorien in order to escape annihilation at the hands of an invading race called Mogedorians, also known as Mogs. As a safety mechanism employed to protect the refugees, the Mogs can only track and kill the children in a pre-determined order.

The movie begins with the murder of Number Three. It’s quickly established that the Mogs are significantly more powerful than young Loriens. Cat-and-mouse chases have never appealed to me, yet this movie just got better and better.

Soon after, the next target—Number Four, also known as John Smith (Alex Pettyfer)—is introduced along with his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant). As a safety precaution, they move from Miami to the comically-named town of Paradise, Ohio.

As is almost standard with movies aimed at teenagers, Number Four begins displaying an excess of teen angst. In Paradise, John meets photographer Sarah Hart (Dianna Agron, bonus points for being Jewish); their interest in each other becomes all too apparent.

While some of the generic elements of the movie annoyed me, the special effects helped redeem the movie to my surprise. One of the best examples came near the end (minor spoiler alert!,) of the movie when John’s pet dog transforms into an awesome fighting “Chimera” which helps defend him against the Mogs.

Another positive part of the movie was the acting. Pettyfer, Olyphant and Agron all proved better than I expected. I’d never seen Pettyfer in a movie before, so I merely underestimated him. Olyphant has many movies to his credit and surprised me through the variety of emotion he conveyed in one single movie. I’m used to seeing him play comparatively simple characters. Agron may have been the biggest surprise of the three. I’d previously seen her as a cheerleader in the second season of “Heroes,” and I have heard she also plays a cheerleader on “Glee.” It might have simply been the fact that she wasn’t playing a cheerleader that surprised me, but it just goes to show that typecasting can be a bad thing.

Another part the romantic sap in me liked an interesting anecdote about the Loriens and love. Around the middle of the movie, Henri (Olyphant) informs John that Loriens do not feel love “the same way as humans do.” It turns out that Loriens take the concept of soul mates to a whole new level where they literally only feel love (the romantic kind) for one person. Ever.

“I Am Number Four” was one of those movies where you walk out of the theater wishing you were the main character. It’s also a movie that everyone can enjoy. It appears that the director cared more about making it appeal to a broad audience than about making it a guy-oriented sci-fi action flick. I think he succeeded in doing just that.

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