|Written by Noah Fleming|
|Monday, 13 October 2008|
In the comic books, Constantine doesn’t try to be the hero. He’s totally out for himself, either to gain something for himself, help a friend he can’t live without (and the attrition rate among Constantine’s friends is incredible) or learn something about magic or a demon that he didn’t previously know. The interesting part about reading the comics is that Constantine can do anything at any time, be the hero or the villain, and his fans cling to his every move. Vertigo Comics deliberately keeps Constantine from crossing over into superhero titles with the likes of Batman and Superman because they want to maintain the integrity of the “real” world that Constantine lives in.
In the comics, Constantine is a magician. He was called to magic and has been with it ever since, learning all kinds of macabre and dark things. In the Hollywood version of “Constantine”, Constantine is an exorcist, a demonologist who specializes in casting out supernatural entities from those who’ve been possessed. The movie version shows that Constantine is primarily a Roman Catholic believer who has fallen from grace and whose soul is now forfeit through his own actions. He’s been able to see the half-breeds of Heaven and Hell since he was a child, which spun his life out of control until he learned how to fight back. Now he’s on the side of the angels, fighting for his immortal soul in a battle no one will let him win.
Alan Moore, one of the current icons of the comics' world, created the character of John Constantine, but Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis get the credit for the screenplay inspiration. The rumor is that Moore had his name taken off the project, as with the later “V for Vendetta.” Sometimes Moore claims he invented John Constantine because one of his artists on the comic book had a Sting infatuation he wanted to exercise. Sometimes he claims to have met the true John Constantine.
In the comics, John Constantine is British, with the wry humor the Brits are known for. He likes punk rock and was even in a band for a while, till he got most of them killed fighting demons. But in Hollywood’s version, Constantine lives in Los Angeles, a fact that sent many fans into a rabid attack on the movie. Also, instead of a magician, Constantine is relegated to the role of an exorcist, an independent force who casts out the truly powerful demons the Church can’t handle. However, the Church can’t truly acknowledge him because they know his soul is earmarked for Hell.
Keanu Reeves seems to split the audiences as much as the idea of the Hollywood version of “Constantine.” Some like his work and some hate it, some who claim he’s very talented and some who claim he has no talent at all. Whatever he’s got, he’s making it work for him, even if it doesn’t work for everybody else. Lately, he’s been cast as the hero, as Jack Traven in “Speed” and Neo in “The Matrix” and its sequels, and he brings the same sort of intensity to “Constantine”. He looks good in front of the camera but he doesn’t bring anything new to his repertoire as Constantine.
Rachel Weisz stars in a dual role as twin sisters, both of whom have the gift/curse of being able to see the supernatural. Her acting slides from being overly emotional to being as deadpan as Reeves’, but it works for the most part.
Teen star Shia LaBeouf spent time in front of a camera since he was thirteen or fourteen and seems to have the magic that’s going to promise him a long career that most child stars never have. Although the character of Chas in the “Hellblazer” is older and ends up differently, he was still a cab driver. Shia brings innocence to the role that is powerful as the story winds up.
Djimon Hounsou stars as the enigmatic Midnite, a club owner who refuses to allow the war between Heaven and Hell intrude into his private space. At once intense and dangerous and sympathetic, Hounsou carries the part very well.
As the half-angel Gabriel, Tilda Swinton (“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”) delivers a solid performance. She has stunning looks that makes her stand out in any film, and they serve her well in this one.
Pruitt Taylor Vince (“Deadwood”) portrays Father Hennessey. Unfortunately, the role just doesn’t have enough meat to leave a lasting impression of his work.
Gavin Rossdale (“Stealth”) stars as Balthazar, a particularly evil role as a half-demon that just doesn’t quite come to fruition here. He has the looks, he’s got the evil look in his eyes, but he just didn’t quite have the evil power he should.
Peter Stormare (“Nacho Libre,” “Fargo,” “The Brothers Grimm”) plays Satan to the hilt. Dressed all in white, with a touch of madness and avarice that clings to him, he’s at once comical and terrifying.
The screenplay was written by Kevin Brodbin (“Mindhunters”) and Frank Cappello (“No Way Back” and “Suburban Commando”).
Director Francis Lawrence (music videos for Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez) brought a deliberately slow-paced movie to the screen. In the interview segment included in the special features, he talks about the choice that he made. Given the material and the character, he states that he knows the story could have been faster-paced and more violent, but he wanted to slow it down a little and really expose Constantine’s world. Again, the audience seems to be split on how effective this was. The movie does drag a little at times when it seems it should be running pell-mell, but some of this slower pacing really allows the viewer to grasp what is going on instead of being thrown through it.
Unfortunately, the movie suffers from multiple plotlines that don’t quite converge the way they should. The true catalyst in the story, the Spear of Destiny—which was used to kill Jesus Christ as he hung on the cross—is presented up front when it is discovered. However, at no time during the film is it revealed how the Spear got to where it was found, or truly what its powers are. There are some very cinematic moments set around it, though, such as when the man who finds it steps out in front of a speeding car on a highway and the car is brought to a sudden halt, wrapping around the man and going to pieces. Later in the movie, the man climbs a fence and drops down into a pasture where a herd of cows are. As he moves through the animals, the cows drop dead in their tracks and turn to dust, blowing away on the wind before the man is out of sight. But his character is never explored, nor where the Spear has been throughout history.
One of the best parts of the movie is Peter Stormare’s performance as Satan confronting Constantine at the end. Even though it’s a movie, some viewers will probably be creeped out by Stormare’s delivery.
Released back in 2006 as one of the first HD DVDs, "Constantine" is given the same great transfer on Blu-ray. The blacks are solid giving a vibrant and deep image. The excellent contrast also contributes to a popping image. The difficult reds are well reproduced, with no break up. The source is pristine, no blemishes or dirt. There is some film grain, but nothing that is annoying. The details are decent, but the image does suffer from some motion blur due to the high amount of CGI. All in all, the video quality is outstanding and could definitely be used for demo material in some instances.
The audio quality is truly magnificent on this Blu-ray release. The HD DVD release was treated wit ha Dolby TrueHD audio track. The Blu-ray includes the same audio transfer. The aggressive sound effect design of the film translates well on the TrueHD track. The surround channels are always engaged with ambience, sound design, and discrete effects. Almost any scene can be used to demo your Blu-ray and surround sound system. The LFE channel is intense, providing constant depth. In fact, the LFE is better than most recent action films. The dialogue is clear and audible. The dynamic range is excellent, although most of the film is occupied with action sequences sound flares.
AUDIO QUALITY: With a layered and split sound track, “Constantine” was made for the home entertainment audiophile. Explosions explode through the surround sound system and make the subwoofer jump. When movement sweeps across the screen, it’s mirrored by sound through the speakers, tracking just as quickly from side to side or back and forth between the speakers. A single drop of water falling into a pool is clear and sweet, and the sudden crash of a glass roof shattering into a thousand pieces will strike the viewer with a physical force.
The Blu-ray contains all the special features of the HD DVD release, as well as the two-disc Deluxe Edition DVD. However, they all remain in 480p. On the Blu-ray disc, there are two audio commentaries. The first is with director Francis Lawrence and producer Akiva Goldsman. The second commentary is with screenwriters Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello. There is plenty of information in these commentaries, however they are plagued by the recaps of the onscreen action. There are about 90 minutes of featurettes. Most of these cover the origins of Constantine and the visual effects of the film. There is tons of information in these featurettes. They are definitely worth a look. Next are 14 deleted scenes. Some of the scenes are extensions, other meaningless. But then there are the few that are particularly interesting, highlighting character development. There is a fairly lackluster picture-in-picture feature. This contains reassembled interviews. Last, there is a music video and a theatrical trailer. A digital copy is presented on a second disc.
As far as an evening’s entertainment goes, viewers could do much worse than “Constantine”. The story is pretty much there. Keanu Reeves fans should be happy (he’s dressed in black and kicking butt again!). The special effects are pretty cool. But that’s about it. The movie won’t change the life of anyone who sees it, leave them with new chills, or even expose them to anything new. (Well, there is the cross-shaped shotgun that seemed really weak.)
Collectors wanting to add one more Blu-ray that will blast the surround sound and surge through a monitor with crystal-clear clarity will probably want to pick this one up. The movie itself is good enough. Recommended to add to your collection.