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Constantine: Deluxe Edition DVD Review

Constantine: Deluxe Edition

December 3, 2005

Director: Francis Lawrence,
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LeBeouf, Tilda Swinton, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Djimon Hounsou, Gavin Rossdale, Peter Stormare, Max Baker, Jesse Ramirez, José Zúñiga, Francis Guinan, Larry Cedar,

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DVD Review

Constantine (2005) marks the feature film debut of music video director Francis Lawrence who, judging by the look of this movie, would like to follow in the footsteps of David Fincher. For his first time out, Lawrence takes on the daunting task of adapting the excellent comic book, Hellblazer. Its main character, John Constantine first appeared in the pages of Swamp Thing, during an illustrious run by Alan Moore. Eventually, Constantine got his own series with the launch of DC Comics’ Vertigo line. Jamie Delano was the primary writer and fleshed out the character’s backstory, his friends (like Chas the cabbie) and family. These stories typified late ‘80s comic book horror and provided a bridge between Moore and the next creative heavyweight to tackle the character, Garth Ennis. His run on Hellblazer is where the movie gets most of its material from. Constantine is a chain-smoking, hard-drinking guy suffering from terminal lung cancer. He becomes embroiled in a complex war between Heaven and Hell with humanity caught in the middle.

The movie moves the comic’s setting from London to Los Angeles with John Constantine no longer being a blond-haired Englishman who looks like Sting to a very un-British-looking Keanu Reeves. The opening sequence introduces Constantine as an expert demon hunter trying to get back in with the good graces of God and the way he figures it, buy his way back into Heaven, but it isn’t that easy. We meet him as he exorcises a nasty demon from a young girl (a snazzy CGI updated riff on The Exorcist) while his twentysomething sidekick, Chas (LeBeouf) waits in the car and perfects his Travis Bickle routine. Despite these cliches, this introduction is quite impressively shot and Lawrence successfully establishes this supernatural world and wisely limits Reeves’ dialogue, conveying most of what we need to know through the visuals.

Angela (Weisz) is a police detective whose twin sister has just died, committing suicide in a psychiatric hospital. Angela suspects foul play and this leads her to Constantine. They learn that demons are finding a way to crossover into our world and it has something to do with the Spear of Destiny (the weapon used to kill Jesus) being instrumental in summoning the son of Satan. To make matters worse, Constantine is rapidly dying from lung cancer and this gives his mission a certain sense of urgency.

Fans of the comic book are probably not going to like this movie. Constantine is supposed to be world-weary, a sarcastic drunk and womanizer but Reeves doesn’t quite pull it off. He presents a more sanitized version of the comic book character and even that feels forced. Another major betrayal of the character is having him wield a gun (a cool-looking crucifix shotgun), something that the Constantine of the comic would never do. Reeves is unable sell the character convincingly and is miscast in this role. Guy Pearce or Clive Owen would have been a much better choice to play Constantine.

Rachel Weisz is also miscast as Constantine’s potential love interest. Her line delivery throughout the movie is flat and lacks passion. She has zero chemistry with Reeves (didn’t they learn anything from Chain Reaction?) and someone like Fairuza Balk or even Drea DeMatteo would have been much better in this pivotal role. On the plus side, alternative rocker Gavin Rossdale plays a very dapper Balthazar who looks like he stepped right out of GQ photo shoot. He has a lot fun chewing up the scenery and his confrontation with Reeves is one of the highpoints of the movie.

Lawrence certainly knows how to establish atmosphere and does an excellent job of presenting a seedy, Los Angeles underworld populated by bars filled with demons, dilapidated apartments and grungy city streets slicked with rain. Thankfully, he doesn’t fall into the trap of shamelessly ripping off Blade Runner’s (1982) dystopic cityscape. If anything, his vision of Constantine’s world is like an episode of Angel on big-budget CGI steroids. He also is able create an effectively creepy mood throughout. For example, there’s a nice, throwaway scene where Constantine and Angela are on a city street when all the lights systematically go out as a slew of nasty, winged demons swarm all over them.

Despite the miscasting of Reeves and Weisz in the two main roles, Lawrence’s take on Constantine is actually quite entertaining, even more so if you haven’t read the comic book. However, fans of the series will have problems with the major liberties the filmmakers have taken with the characters – especially Constantine and Chas. Like most comic book adaptations, this film only sprinkles certain elements from the source material, just enough to vaguely resemble it while watering it down for mainstream consumption. It’s a shame because in the right hands, Constantine could have been this year’s Hellboy (2004) instead it’s closer to the flawed, missed opportunity of The Punisher (2004).

Special Features:

On the first DVD there is an audio commentary by Francis Lawrence, producer Akiva Goldsman and screenwriters Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello. Lawrence does his best to keep on topic and actually comment on what we are watching while Goldsman does his best to come off as very annoying and unfunny. He eventually settles down and actually tries to offer some constructive observations. Brodbin is refreshingly candid and talks about the film’s origins and his involvement with the project for over 10 years.

Also included is a music video for the song “Passive” by A Perfect Circle. It’s pretty standard stuff with the band playing through distorted visuals with lots of clips from the movie.

There is also the teaser and theatrical trailer.

The catch phrase of the extras on second DVD is how everyone wanted to “stay true to the spirit “of the comic book. Everyone involved makes a point of defending the changes made from comic to film. “Conjuring Constantine” traces the character’s origins from The Swamp Thing to Hellblazer. One producer says that she wanted to do a “classy” version of The Exorcist (?!). Not surprisingly, Alan Moore and Garth Ennis are not interviewed as I’m sure they’d have a few things to say about the liberal changes made.

“The Production from Hell” features Lawrence talking about the pressures of making his first feature film. Originally, the movie had a different opening that had to be scrapped because it was too expensive. We also see how they achieved the film’s impressive car crash and how the holy relics and other props were made.

“Imagining the Underworld” takes a look at the film’s version of Hell. Lawrence wanted it to resemble Los Angeles’ highway after a nuclear bomb test explosion. Several other special effects set pieces are examined and shown how they were put together.

“Constantine Cosmology” examines the role mythology plays in the movie and how it compares to the heroic journey according to the writings of Joseph Campbell.

“Foresight: The Power of Pre-Visualization” shows how certain scenes were mapped out in terms of point-of-view, angles, and camera moves via computer animation with an optional audio commentary by Lawrence.

Finally, there are four deleted scenes with optional commentary by Lawrence. He talks about why they were cut, usually for reasons of pacing. A character from the comic book, Ellie the demon, was cut from the film and her scene is included.

A nice touch with this deluxe edition is the inclusion of a mini-comic book that includes stories by Delano and Ennis.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 75%

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