Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
We've all heard the old saying that you don't have to believe in a movie to enjoy it, you just have to suspend your disbelief. Perhaps never has that been as true as with 'Constantine,' a movie with a premise so ludicrous it's hard to imagine even the most devout Jesuit priest being scared by its over-the-top satanic gobbledygook. Then again, 'Constantine' is also so unrelentingly earnest in its own apocalyptic hokum that gosh darn if I didn't start to admire it just for its sheer sincerity alone.
Based on the DC Comics/Vertigo graphic novel series, 'Constantine' stars Keanu "Whoa!" Reeves as John Constantine, a burnt-out demon hunter bargaining to save his own soul and gain entrance to heaven by performing exorcisms. He's laconic, cynical, a doubter. Then into his life comes Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz), whose late sister Isabel (also Weisz) has just jumped to her death after years in an insane asylum -- and the connection between Constantine and Angela/Isabel is deeper than it at first appears. Meanwhile, the ancient "Spear of Destiny" has just been uncovered by a random thief, and if it falls into the wrong hands the human race could fall prey to Satan himself. The stage is now set for the ultimate battle of good and evil -- Angela and Constantine must team up to "balance out the imbalance," and are thrust into an investigation of the world of demons and angels that exists just beneath the landscape of contemporary Los Angeles.
On the surface, 'Constantine' would seem to most to resemble a videogame version of 'The Exorcist,' but I thought it's vibe was far more 'Blade Runner.' Reeves plays Constantine like he's channeling Harrison Ford's Deckard rather than Max Von Sydow's Father Merrin, winding his way through the 'Runner'-esque horror-noir of 'Constantine's otherworldly L.A. with a cigarette permanently attached to his mouth and pessimism to burn. Weisz's skeptical Angela is also physically reminiscent of Sean Young in 'Blade Runner,' mixed with a bit of 'X-Files' Scully. And as aided by Philippe Rousselot's dark cinematography and director Francis Lawrence's edgy pacing, 'Constantine' so co-opts 'Blade Runner's overall look and feel that I kept expecting Daryl Hannah to come bouncing in dressed as a demon and do an acrobatic routine.
This isn't to say 'Constantine' is nearly as good of a film as 'Blade Runner.' But Lawrence, working off of an ambitious script by Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello, at least attempts to integrate more profound ideas into his film than your typical horror/CGI-fest. Granted, since I'm not religious I didn't believe one second of this ridiculousness, but I do appreciate filmmakers who possess the courage of their convictions. Even if I didn't believe in 'Constantine,' the filmmakers wanted me to, so I went along for the ride willingly. I even enjoyed all the talky, self-conscious debate about the nature of heaven and hell, man's propensity for violence, God's ultimate plan for humankind etc., that infuses the film. Sure, it doesn't add up to much in the end, but at least the film dares to ask such questions at all.
Unfortunately, the film eventually tosses most of the metaphysical discussion right out the window in favor of standard-issue, effects-laden videogame action sequences. Indeed, most of 'Constantine's runtime plays like a back-and-forth tennis match between Reeves and Weisz holding dialogues on spirituality and religion, with surreal CGI-laden attacks by scary-looking demons. Because I never quite believed in either character enough to ultimately care what happened to them (though Oscar-winner Weisz is compelling in what could have been an utterly thankless role), 'Constantine' is never really that scary, and its action never really that thrilling. And as a think piece, the film fails to develop enough of its ideas to excite the intellect, like such great classic horror films as 'The Exorcist' or 'Rosemary's Baby.' Still, as a mood piece, 'Constantine' has its moments, and it sure is a lot of fun.
Warner released 'Constantine' on HD DVD back in late 2006, with a 1080p/VC-1 encode (2.35:1). They've recycled the same transfer here, and it remains an excellent presentation that delivers some great high-def moments.
I can only hurl superlatives at 'Constantine.' The print appears as perfect as is possible, with not a defect or blemish to be found. Blacks are also rock solid, contrast excellent and detail superb even in the darkest scenes. Three-dimensionality is also impressive -- it really feels like you can reach out and touch the screen at times. And this despite the image having been obviously tweaked with the aid of computer technology. Sure, colors have that painted-on look that untouched film-based transfers can't produce naturally, but it is all so clean and smooth it is hard to complain. This transfer also expertly reproduces the most difficult hues, especially deep reds, which are free of noise and smearing.
If I have any complaint, it is that the action scenes that take place in the film's alternate hell reality are almost entirely computer generated, which gives them a slightly softer appearance than the real-world scenes. Perhaps it is all that artificial motion-blur they add to the computer-generated characters, but oftentimes shots that are primarily CGI appear a bit flatter and less defined. Still, a minor nitpick. Otherwise, 'Constantine' looks superb just as good on Blu-ray as it did on HD DVD.
'Constantine' was one of Warner's first HD DVD releases to feature a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track, which like the video has been repurposed here (again in 48kHz/16-bit). The film benefits from very aggressive sound design, which expertly utilizes all five speakers for some truly immersive experiences.
As there's never more than a few minutes of downtime between the film's action sequences, the rear channels are almost constantly engaged with both pronounced and subtle effects bouncing around all over the place. The imaging is transparent, and movement of sound between channels is quite boisterous. There were a few scenes, such as during Keanu Reeves' first trip to the underground nightclub/lair of Midnite (Djimon Hounsou) where I simply could not locate exactly where certain sounds were coming from. A later attack by flying winged demons on Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz was also a strong sequence, with the whirling monster noises filling up the rear soundfield in very impressive fashion.
Dynamic range also excels. Reproduction of the mid- and high-ranges is tangible. Dialogue reproduction is clear and distinct, and well-placed in the center channel despite all the bombast surrounding it. Though I would have liked the spoken word to have been balanced a tad bit higher in the mix, but 'Constantine' still juggles quiet and loud passages quite effectively for a big action soundtrack. Low bass is also quite strong and clean, with the intense LFE frequencies never breaking up due to audible distortion or other anomalies. 'Constantine' sounds great.
Porting over all of the extras from the two-disc Deluxe Edition DVD of 'Constantine' released in 2006, this Blu-ray replicates the HD DVD with a boatload of supplements. Though I can't say quantity is always equal to quality, in this case I can't imagine any fan feeling shorted after sitting through the hours of material here. All extras are presented in 480p/i/MPEG-2 video.
- Audio Commentaries - Kicking things off are two audio commentaries, the first with director Francis
Lawrence and producer Akiva Goldsman, and the second with screenwriters
Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello. I would have just preferred to have them
all edited into one single, more cohesive discussion, as the separate tracks
often overlap with the same information. However, if you're a fan, there
is no shortage of insight here -- just about every aspect of the making
of the film is covered (twice), from adapting the graphic novel to pre-production
to casting to visualizing the comic book-inspired world onto film. Another
complaint is that sometimes all four participants sometimes regurgitate
what is happening onscreen, which is always the kiss of death for an audio
commentary. Still, these are pretty informative tracks.
- Featurettes (SD, 89 minutes) - The heart of the extras are the no less than thirteen featurettes
included, which combined run a total of nearly 90 minutes and make for a
pretty comprehensive documentary on the making of 'Constantine.' The only
annoyance is all that clicking required -- the standard DVD release nicely
organized the featurettes into four subsections, but not here. They are
can only be accessed manually, one at a time, which is a drag.
"Conjuring Constantine" (15:43) investigates the origins of the original 'Constantine' graphic novel, its development into a screenplay, and visualizing the character of Keanu Reeves.
What was called "The Production From Hell" on the standard DVD is separated here into "Director Confessional" (5:35) which reveals a rather open Lawrence discussing his fears as a first-time director; "Collision with Evil" (4:39) with Lawrence dissecting the film's opening exorcism scene; and "Holy Relics" (8:22), a visit with propmaster Kirk Corwin who gives us a tour of all the nifty artifacts seen in the film.
The next subsection on the standard DVD was "Imagining the Underworld," here divided into "Hellscape" (11:59), which examines the film's many visual effects with team leaders Michael Fink and Craig Hayes; the perfectly-titled "Visualizing Vermin" (9:36) on how the crew created the film's icky "insect monster" seen early in the film; "Warriors Wings" (3:18), a short look at how realistic wings were created for the film's CGI demons; and "Unholy Abduction" (5:47), which analyzes the grand scene where Angela is stolen out of an office building.
Rounding out the featurettes are "Constantine Cosmology" (5:21), a visit with author Phil Cousineau, who discusses our society's need for mythic heroes, and finally "Foresight: The Power of Pre-Visualization" (13:56), which features several animatic-to-live action comparisons all with optional commentary by Lawrence.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 17 minutes) - Next up are fourteen snips. Many are just quick scene extensions, and others only fairly extraneous
characters bits. However, three of the scenes are of particular interest,
as they feature a character that was completely snipped out of the final
cut. A rather foxy demon, I imagine fans of the graphic novels would have
enjoyed her presence in the finished film, but then she doesn't really affect
the narrative (and the film is already long enough) so I can see why they
excised her out. Also included is an alternate ending, but I didn't find
it particularly noteworthy.
- Music Video (SD) - Included is a clip for the song "Passive" by A Perfect Circle, but it is pretty forgettable.
- Theatrical Trailer (HD) - Finishing things up are the film's theatrical and teaser trailers, and both are in full HD.
'Constantine' isn't really a great horror film, nor is it a great action film, but it touches on some interesting themes, boasts a strong cast, and is certainly a handsomely-mounted production. Fans of the graphic novel will probably like it, too. This Blu-ray is a no-brainer, with great video and audio and plenty of supplements. I can't recommend 'Constantine' as an automatic purchase, but it's certainly worth checking out.
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