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  1. #1
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    Apr 2002

    FINALLY, A "NEW" DVD REVIEW: CONSTANTINE (Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow)


    There are times when you step out of a theater and very much enjoy the film you saw, and once it hits DVD, you dont know....something goes wrong and you dont recall why you enjoyed it quite so much theatrically.....OR, sometimes its the other way view a film theatrically, and couldnt really stand it but once on DVD you gained a new found respect for it and it quickly becomes a favorite on your shelf (this happened to me with Exorcist: The Beginning).

    Well, for the Francis Lawrence thriller Constantine, the first scenario, unfortunately, held true for me. When I saw this theatrically --- well, even from the very first trailers --- I could tell this was going to be right up my alley because Im a sucker for these possession/occult type pictures, and I was very impressed leaving the theater (I cant remember the last time I said that about seeing ANYTHING with Keanu Reeves in it). Suddenly, re-visiting it tonight on Digital Versatile Disc (is that what they're calling it these days anymore?), yes, it does make a good addition to my personal collection.....however, I was simply not floored the way I was theatrically after seeing this; like I said, sometimes this happens, and sometimes the OPPOSITE happens. And sometimes, its simply a state of mind youre in when watching something. Perhaps thats what went wrong.

    At any rate, this film is based upon characters from the DC Comics/Vertigo Hellblazer Graphic Novels and set in modern-day Los Angeles. Now, Im not going to lie to you......BOY does this film get tricky, splintering and confusing especially towards the end where it becomes a boiling point of special effects and knock-you-over-the-head editing techniques, and for those of you who have not seen it yet, I will let you make up your own minds about the plot and how confusing it was/was not for you. This is what I got from it; Reeves plays John Constantine, a man who supposedly comitted suicide and for that should have been sent to hell but instead comes back as a warrior against demons and evil beings that are creeping into our world. The Devil is waiting for him someday, he knows this, but in the meantime, he is given abilities and "visions" which allow him to battle the underworld that is ready to "step into our plane of existence;" now, the film will lead you to believe that demons and angels cannot enter our world and they can only communicate with us through what Reeves calls "half breeds," those who are almost-demon-like or almost-angel-like walking this Earth to "suggest" temptation of suicide or anything to bring human souls closer to Hell. But it seems Constantine has discovered, through a wild beginning exorcism scene (that seemed "wilder" to me in the theaters than at home, as I have been explaining) and through other demonic attacks on him in the streets of L.A., that demons are indeed getting ready to break through into world.

    The plot splinters into a sub-plot regarding a sexy LAPD detective (Rachel Weisz, The Mummy) and the suicide of her twin sister, which leads her to seek Constantine's help in figuring out if she is in hell or not, as well as a backdrop story regarding a strange underground "club" thats a disguise for half-breed hangouts as well as a voodoo doctor that seems to have the upper hand, physically, on Reeves (played by Gladiator's Djmon Hounsou); it seems Reeves needs this voodoo doctor's help --- but its never really made clear why or what purpose this guy serves to the plot because, as he explains to Constantine, he is "neutral" and wont take sides for either demons or angels. As I said, it can get confusing at times, probably because the filmmakers had to work off comic book characters and graphic novel narration that were downright confusing and Dungeons-and-Dragons-like to begin with.

    Oh yes, and there is also this OTHER sub plot regarding the "Spear of Destiny" and some guy in Mexico who stumbles across it on a dig wrapped in a Nazi World War II flag.....according to the very opening titles of the film, "He who controls the Spear of Destiny controls fate...." or something like that and goes on to tell us "The Spear has been missing since World War II" which explains why this Mexican finds it wrapped in a Nazi flag; it seems this spear may have been the last weapon used to kill Christ during his crucifixtion; the Spear plays a role later on, but its never really made clear why this Mexican stumbles upon it, nor why he is given supernatural abilities because of finding it and holding it......and it doesnt really explain what this has to do with anything in the film, really. Throughout the film, we get flashes of this Mexican guy holding the Spear in his hand, killing people that get in his way, seemingly possessed because his eyes are glowing somewhat red, and heading towards Los Angeles in order to confront Weisz's character at the end; it is VERY confusing as I said.

    I'm not going to go any further into the plot for those of you who have not yet seen this and plan on renting it, but to say Reeves finally runs into the Devil who has been desperate to steal his soul for comitting suicide and coming back from that (played by the guy who plays the Russian Mob boss in Bad Boys II; a very odd choice in casting for this role to say the least; when you see the film and how "The Devil" delivers his ridiculous dialogue, you'll see what I mean) and the end leaves us with huge question marks over our heads (well, it did for me anyway). But, there were many plusses to this film, including, as I mentioned, a pretty awesome exorcism scene to begin the film where a young possessed Latino girl is running around on her ceiling mumbling in demonic tones (where have we seen this before? I know....somewhere....OH YES! Thats right! The Exorcist, The Exorcist III, Exorcist: The Beginning......yada yada yada.....); this is our first glimpse of John Constantine and what his mission is on Earth as a trash-talking, chain smoking ass-kicker of demons as he steps out of a taxi driven by his young apprentice and enters the apartment building and the apartment of the possessed girl, who is now tied to her bed (remind anyone of, again, William Friedkin's Exorcist?). Its clear that THIS exorcist, Reeves, is a take-no-**** warrior of good, going right for the possessed girl and chanting Latin exorcism rhetoric to get the demon soldier out of her and into a giant mirror. The scene theatrically gave me goose bumps; on DVD it was not so shocking. But, if you're a fan of the occult, it's a pretty cool exorcism scene.

    And thats another plus --- this role was well-played by Reeves, who I dont usually have much good to say about. Funny and ironic that he is in yet another Devilish role after starring with Pacino in The Devil's Advocate, once again coming face to face with Lucifer himself. But he plays this role of Constantine --- based off the novels and DC comics --- almost perfectly; his "glimpses" into hell remind us that even demons in hell are somewhat afraid of this "warrior for the good" and the overall delivery of his character is well rendered through Reeves in almost a comic book hero style; this is almost Spider-Man meets the occult --- but in a different way than Van Helsing tried to explore, where Helsing was going after classic monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolfman (or was it The Werewolf?). Reeves, at certain points, is very believable as this tormented man being wanted by the Devil and hell and at the same time desperate to make it into heaven while he continues to fight supernatural occurances on Earth.

    Rachel Weisz is nothing more than a cute, sexy window dressing piece; her character, as an LAPD detective trying to figure out why her twin sister comitted suicide in a mental ward and if she's in hell, didnt really do much for the quality of this film, but her role, apparently (although had me scratching my head) was very important to the climax of the film. Again, I was left with "huh? what?" but maybe you wont be.

    This is another one of those modern-day CGI parties, and the special effects team have gone wild here. Demon effects, graphics of hell, angels with wings.....all are digitally rendered in Constantine as I guess was necessary to bring this occult comic and novel-based story to the big screen. The effects are not horribly obvious, but they are constant and you'll know you're watching a CGI infested scene when it comes. They dont get cartoonish, as I thought they did, ironically, in Ang Lee's The Hulk (and which I thought ruined that film) but to do a film on this scale, with the necessary effects for shock value, there was no choice but to turn to digital EFX magic, a la CGI and the boys at ILM.

    In the end, this was a cool "Good vs Evil" comic-like tale with Keanu Reeves in a pretty good lead role for the first time in a long time as the cool, take-no-****-from-any-demons Emphysema-suffering "hero" John Constantine. I'll let you guys rent (or buy if you're so inclined like I was) the disc and make up your own minds if this plot seemed convoluted and just too all-over-the-place or not.

    Let's take a closer look now, at Warner Brothers' DVD presentation of Constantine, because, this is, after all, primarily a DVD review.....

    There are supposedly four versions of this DVD out there since launch day last Tuesday; a wide and full single disc release and a wide and full (I believe) "Deluxe Edition" which adds a second disc of extras know the rest. I picked up and reviewed the simple one disc widescreen version because, well, honestly, more than $15 was not necessary to spend for this title. LUCKILY, we are not subjected here to Warner's typical snapper case packaging (which I think they are SLOWLY getting rid of thanks to critical public backlash on fanatic sites like Home Theater and the disc comes in a simple plastic-lined keepcase box. Inside were some typical rip-you-off offers from Warner promising you a free DVD IF you buy another one at regular price AND IF you pay for shipping and handling on that disc gotta love the marketing people at these studios. *rolls eyes*

    Also, as a professional level review of this new title, I wanted to point out that VERY annoyingly (someone needs to do something about this; I thought it was just a Universal Studios thing) when you first start the disc, there are a PLETHORA of coming attractions and service messages that you must literally skip over track by track in order just to GET to Constantine's menu screen. There should be a law against these things.


    I dont have to give you my regular speech about Warner and their refusal to label the aspect ratio of their DVDs on the boxes, do I? Guessing at the ratio, because of the letterboxing, this was either a 2:35:1 or 2:40:1 scope transfer which was rendered quite accurately on my 55" 16X9 set. For a brand new, modern-day action thriller, believe it or not, Constantine did not appear "reference quality" whether this was intentional or not. To the naked eye from a good distance from your screen, the transfer appears strong and clean, but if you look close, you'll see a very, very slight grain running through the image that doesnt make it look so smooth under a scrutinizing eye; the colors of the transfer are also drenched in a subdued hue here --- much like the off-putting "greenish" tinge in Daredevil; this was no doubt intentional on the filmmakers part, but it did bring out the "un-perfectness" of the transfer and the slight hints of grain and dirt. Not a bad transfer, but what didnt seem like reference to me; if anyone finds other results on this disc, please feel free to comment in this thread.


    Here's another head-scratcher that I had a problem with......Warner dumps a GREAT DTS mix on Renny Harlin's Exorcist: The Beginning and yet drops a rather anemic, weak Dolby Digital 5.1 track on this; let me explain......for starters (and this was confirmed by another friend I have who reviews DVDs for another site who found the exact same thing) this entire mix is just downright LOW in volume, ESPECIALLY the dialogue (now we're beginning to sound more like Warner Brothers were talking about, right? But this shouldnt be for a brand-new-to-DVD title....), where the center channel is simply quiet, hushed and subdued in comparison to the rest of the mix. This is noticeable from the very beginning of the track; you'll have a hard time making out what some of the characters are actually saying unless you crank this one up --- especially Reeves' character, who seems to be whispering at times the center channel appears so low.....this COULD have been intentional for effect for this film, however, it's not nifty when you need to keep playing around with your volume because dialogue is too low and effects come crashing on (a typical Dolby Digital thing); however, I was able to find a comfortable balance on my receiver after awhile, and you should too. Just dont expect an in-your-face brightness to the dialogue on this DVD as Exorcist: The Beginning did so excellently. I was dissapointed in this regard with the Constantine DVD, expecting a more "forward" experience from a modern day action picture; but, as Terrence has constantly said, ALWAYS go into a review expecting the worst and be pleasantly surprised.....I had my hopes too far up.

    Lets talk effects....first of all, the saving grace of this Dolby Digital track is the use of the .1 LFE channel --- and I DO mean USE.....constant and active, your walls will be shaking for most of this presentation --- so much so that my sub actually cracked and snapped during a scene where Weisz's character is yanked out of a building by a demonic force --- something that has not happened FOR YEARS on my super-calibrated system. This track has some definite bass heft to it, so be careful. Aside from the bass issue, the overall impression of this Dolby mix didnt really floor is mostly front-heavy, and does use the surrounds aggressively when need be --- dont misunderstand just seems like Warner could have done so much more with this audio track --- and its bothering me why they didnt give this a DTS mix. There are brief moments when the surrounds DO startle you and jump to life to emphasize a scene, and mixed with the wallops of bass, it makes for a pretty enjoyable two hours in front of your home theater.....but, as I have stressed, something was definitely off in regards to the overall volume and bitrate running on this track -- and this was confirmed by someone else I know that reviewed the DVD on DVD; it could have used more juice, and I went in with higher expectations than I should have because I came out dissapointed, audio-wise.

    In fact, this mix was so dissapointing, it became painfully obvious when I watched the THEATRICAL TRAILER on the DVD, which defaulted to PRO LOGIC II on my receiver, and the TRAILER was MUCH LOUDER, dialogue wise, than the actual FEATURE FILM on the disc in Dolby Digital 5.1......this made absolutely no sense to me.

    Because this was not the full-blown DELUXE EDITION, special features were limited to:

    -18 Minutes of Additional Scenes Including an Alternate Ending
    -Theatrical Trailer (louder, once again, than the actual Dolby 5.1 mix for the feature)
    -Exclusive DVD ROM Content
    Last edited by Lexmark3200; 07-23-2005 at 12:15 AM.

  2. #2
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    Jun 2005
    cincinnati, ohio


    I that your review hit the nail right on the head. if those who like these types of movies will enjoy constantine.

    thanks again lex !


  3. #3
    Resident DVD Reviewer
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    Apr 2002
    Quote Originally Posted by steamboy 2
    I that your review hit the nail right on the head. if those who like these types of movies will enjoy constantine.

    thanks again lex !

    And thank you again for taking the time to read the review and comment on it.....I appreciate it.

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