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Constantine Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 July 2006

Image Created by Alan Moore, John Totleben and Steve Bissette in an issue of the comic book “Swamp Thing” in 1985, John Constantine began life as a sarcastic and cynical Englishman who knew a lot about magic and the beings that wielded it. With his trademark trench coat and smoking Silk Cut cigarettes, Constantine wandered through several issues of “Swamp Thing”, made brief stopovers in other titles, and finally got his own comic series under the title, “Hellblazer”. There have been over two hundred comic magazines published so far, and the series remains one of the premiere titles of DC Comics’ Vertigo line.

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. VIDEO QUALITY: “Constantine” is one of those special-effects driven movies that will make a HD DVD player owner glad he’s made the step up to the cutting edge in home entertainment. The crisp, clear picture looks theater-perfect, so real and pure that a viewer will think he’s peering through a window at another world that truly exists. The colors are vibrant. Even though a lot of the movie is shot in the dark and shadows are a big part of the action, the video presentation through the HD DVD and a monitor bring out all the gradations of even the darkest images.

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.

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.

The movie has scenes set in a Hispanic community. A mother prepares breakfast and goes to her teenage daughter’s bedroom to tell her. When she opens the door, the mother finds her daughter possessed by a demon and crawling across the ceiling.

Constantine is called in by a friend only after none of the priests can exorcise the demon. Constantine confronts the demon in an action-packed and special-effects laden sequence that really hums along and shows how macabre his life is.

Moving on quickly, the story picks up with LAPD Detective Angela Dodson who is in the midst of a nightmare about her sister, Isabel. When she goes to the mental health facility where Isabel was being kept, she finds that her sister has apparently committed suicide. But those visions that Angela has put her on Constantine’s path and let the viewer know that her sister wasn’t the only one that saw things.

After exorcising the demon, who knows shouldn’t have been able to come through into this world, Constantine sets his friends to looking for the source of the demons’ new power. Something has disrupted the Balance and he wants to know what it is.

In short order, Angela and Constantine’s paths cross at the Church. He’s there to talk to Gabriel, a half-angel, about the cancer he discovers he has. If something’s not done, he’s going to be dead in months. And as it stands now, if he dies his soul is going to Hell. He’s already died once and has been there, and there’s no way he wants to be torn apart by demons over and over again. Gabriel tells him that it doesn’t matter what he wants, doesn’t matter what he does, he’s screwed. His soul is condemned to Hell for his actions.

Angela talks to one of the priests about her sister’s “suicide”, telling him that he knows Isabel would never have killed herself because she was a devout Catholic and knew her soul would be condemned to Hell. (One of the plot holes here is that Isabel’s soul was in Hell even though she was murdered. It was kind of covered over by the fact that the Spear of Destiny was starting to let demons cross over. Maybe.)

Although they don’t like each other, Constantine and Angela have no one else to turn to in order to figure out everything that’s going on. But that isn’t quite true either, although the story would want viewers to think that. Angela does need Constantine, but he doesn’t truly need her. He could continue the investigation on his own without her help.

From that point on, the movie explores John Constantine’s world and depicts the evil that lies in wait for him out there every day. The special effects—the demons and the hellscape—are all well done. The magical tricks he pulls out to destroy the creatures after him are entertaining and inventive, but the story moves along methodically, connecting the dots as they’re supposed to be connected. However, some of those dots—like the guy who found the Spear of Destiny, and the Spear itself—never quite get brought into the overall scheme of things in a satisfying manner.

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.

The Special Features section of the HD DVD is chockfull of goodness. Since this is Director Lawrence’s first feature film after a series of music videos that helped make careers, it only stands to reason that he spend time explaining and justifying everything he did. There’s also a ton of information on the world of John Constantine and how it was put together. Most of the features are only a few minutes long and are well worth the investment of the time it takes to watch them. The special effects sequences are great, showing how far computer graphics have come in linking the imagined world with the real one.

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 HD DVD that will blast the surround sound and surge through a monitor with crystal-clear clarity will probably want to pick this one up. But anyone who doesn’t necessarily care to upgrade to the enhanced video presentation and has the 2-Disc Deluxe Edition already has everything this HD DVD has (plus the comic book that didn’t come with the HD DVD) so unless someone just wants to put “Constantine” on the shelf with the other reddish-purple HD DVD boxes there’s really no reason to pick this up.

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