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CONSTANTINE
Deluxe Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Djimon Honsou, Gavin Rossdale, Peter Stormare
Director: Francis Lawrence
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: July 19, 2005

“GO TO HELL!”

Film ***1/2

I’ve always thought that comic books are at their highest level of enthrallment when the particular hero question falls under the label of the “anti-hero”. They make the best kind of comic books, and they do make the best comic book movie adaptations. The best example of such a hero, and movie, would be Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, who got a movie treatment last year that was for the history books, as far as I’m concerned.

Now, the Vertigo/DC Comics creation of Hellblazer blasts onto the screen in the form of Constantine, which can now take its place amongst the best comic book movies of recent years. The movie manages to mix in awe-inspiring visual effects with an intriguing and most thought provoking story. It’s the sort of achievement that is quite rare in a comic book movie, let alone an effects driven one.

Keanu Reeves stars as the title character, and let me say upfront that Mr. Reeves, with this performance, confirms more than ever that his acting chops have improved more than a hundred percent since his days as Ted Theodore Logan. He blew me away in the three Matrix movies, and his solid work here demonstrates that the breakthrough work in those films wasn’t a fluke of any sort. Reeves perfectly conveys the downtrodden qualities of the hero of the movie.

John Constantine, who serves as sort of P.I./Exorcist, is inches away from death’s door. A longtime chain smoker, he is counting the days until the death opens its doors to him. He knows good and well where he is going when he dies, as an incident from his childhood very much sealed his fate.

Constantine has the ability to detect demons and angels, in human form, in the flesh and communicate with them. It is both his power and his curse. His visions of late have raised his suspicions about a possible war that may occur between Heaven and Hell, right in the modern day Los Angeles, no less. After performing an exorcism on a young girl, and seeing that a “soldier demon” has found its way on Earth, he knows right away that something isn’t right.

At the same time, Constantine gets an unexpected visitor in the form of L.A. cop Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz), who wants answers relating the mysterious, alleged suicide of her twin sister, Isabel. When he tells her of the ability he carries, she asks him to find out if her sister is in fact present amongst the demons of hell.

The centerpiece of the story involves the discovery of an ancient relic known as the Spear of Destiny, which is dug up in Mexico by an unsuspecting drifter, who’s then hit by a car and killed, only to be resurrected by way of the Spear’s power, which also possesses the same person into carrying it all the way to L.A., indicating that Satan maybe nearby to collect his long lost possession.

One of the many pleasures of Constantine is the array of darkly mysterious characters that are found in the world of its hero. Characters such as Midnite (Djimon Hounsou), who runs a nightclub establishment where good and evil seem to congregate, and who occupies a sort of “electric chair” that can transport those who sit in it to hell and back. Constantine also has a priest named Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who scouts out cases for him, as well as a weapons specialist named Beeman (Max Baker), who supplies such methods of defense as holy water and flame torches, aka Dragon’s Breath. He is also able to exchange words with both the angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) and the diabolical, but well-dressed, demon Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale).

Constantine is a comic book atmosphere brought to life by both its dark and brooding characters, but also by an amazing effects artists and production designers. Two specific sequences, both involving Constantine’s transport to hell and back, are nothing short of amazing. The final battle, which does involve the appearance of Satan himself, also has some eye-gazing moments, both in story and in visuals.

While so many movies throw in so much special effects just for sake of it, here’s a movie that applies them for true spectacular usage. This is one movie that is most deserving of an Oscar nomination for visual effects and set design. The look of the demon beasts alone is a treat for the eyes.

First time director Francis Lawrence, a veteran of music videos, has established himself as a pure visionary filmmaker. Lawrence has the chances, I think, of being elevated to the same level as that of Peter Jackson or Alex Proyas. Judging by the outstanding quality of the sets, effects, and action, his chances are more than good.

In the realm of the comic book movie, Constantine is nothing short of a superb surprise. It’s one of the more original films to emerge from the genre. Those seeking both groundbreaking visuals and an engaging story to match are bound to be blown away by this one!

Video ****

Having seen this movie in its theatrical run, I knew that this was destined to be a pure knockout on DVD, and I was absolutely right. A visually dazzling movie like this is what the format was made for in the first place. Warner has delivered what is indeed one of the most amazing looking presentations of the year. The anamorphic picture is strong in every sense. With scenes ranging from bright to dark, the image quality is clear and lively detailed throughout. The eye-gazing effects look even more astonishing in this presentation, and the colors are simply jaw-dropping. A tremendous job, indeed!

Audio ****

I had the same prediction on how the sound quality would turn out, and the 5.1 mix delivers a monster of a bang. Any comic book movie is bound to make a killing in the sound area, and Constantine may just be one of the best examples you’ll ever come across. Every possible sound element, from music to dialogue to action to effects, is given amazing treatment and explodes through the channels in knockout clarity. The sequences in the underworld of hell will knock your socks off, as will other key effects sequences in the movie. This, like its video quality, is destined for a mentioning at this year’s DMC Awards.

Features ****

Warner also manages to deliver one of the absolute best packages with this fully loaded, 2-Disc Deluxe Edition. A single disc release is also available, but trust me when I say that this is the edition you should definitely take advantage of.

Disc One includes a commentary track with director Francis Lawrence, producer Akiva Goldsman and screenwriters Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello, a music video for A Perfect Circle’s most terrific song “Passive”, and Theatrical Trailers.

Disc Two contains 18 minutes of Deleted Footage, as well as an Alternate Ending. Also included are two production documentary galleries; “Conjuring Constantine: The Production from Hell Documentary Gallery”, which contains the featurettes “Director's Confessional”, Collision with Evil” and Holy Relics”.

Then there’s the “Imagining the Underworld Documentary Gallery”, featuring “Hellscape”, “Visualizing Vermin”, Warrior Wings”, “Unholy Abduction”, and Constantine Cosmology”. Lastly, there’s a third documentary titled “Foresight: The Power of Previsualization” and Exclusive DVD-ROM Content.

Also featured, and ONLY FEATURED, in this Deluxe Edition release is a collectable Hellblazer comic, which features a reprint of Issue #41, “Dangerous Habits”, and a Hellblazer short story.

Summary:

Constantine is a, pardon the Bill and Ted expression, most triumphant leap from the comic book to the big screen. This grand cinematic knockout of visual effects and terrific account of the battle between Heaven and Hell is sure to become a DVD presentation for the history books. This Deluxe Edition from Warner is without a doubt one of the year’s best all around releases.

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