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Warner Home Video presents
Constantine HD-DVD (2005)

Angela: Well, this has been real educational, but I don't believe in the devil.
Constantine: You should. He believes in you.

- Rachel Weisz, Keanu Reeves

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 06, 2006

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz
Other Stars: Shia La Beouf, Tilda Swinton, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Djimon Hounsou, Gavin Rossdale, Peter Stormae, Max Baker
Director: Francis Lawrence

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for violence and demonic images
Run Time: 02h:00m:40s
Release Date: June 06, 2006
UPC: 012569809277
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
C C-A-A A-

DVD Review

Although there have been plenty of comic-book based movies in recent years, their emphasis has been primarily on the superhero genre. There are plenty of other genres to comics, however, with horror being one of the notable ones. DC's line of Vertigo comics specializes in such titles, among which one of the most long-running ones is Hellblazer, the story of John Constantine, a doomed and embittered demon fighter and exorcist. The film version captures some of the noir aspects of the character, but doesn't manage to get the more disturbing aspects of the book.

Keanu Reeves stars as John Constantine, with the producers apparently still under the impression that Reeves makes a good action hero, or antihero as the case may be. Constantine has a gift or curse that allows him to see demonic and angelic presences in their real form, and he uses this talent to attempt to redeem himself and gain entry into heaven. He suspects that something immense is coming, and before long learns that Mammon, the son of Lucifer, is making an effort to take the Earth as his own realm, casting it into fire and darkness. Somehow the Spear of Destiny and the suicide of the psychic twin sister of police officer Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) enter into the situation. Although Angela wants answers to why her sister killed herself (if she did in fact do so), Constantine is reluctant to initiate her into the world of darkness that he inhabits, but he may have little choice in the matter as the storm gathers.

The script gives Constantine's mission some immediacy since he is dying of lung cancer, thanks to years of chain-smoking. But otherwise one doesn't really get a sense of there being any particular threat or danger, partially as a result of the story feeling completely arbitrary in its use of plot points and the clumsy adoption of various accoutrements of the story, such as the Spear of Destiny. There are also some baffling lapses of logic, such as both Angela and Constantine's friend defrocked priest Hennessey (Pruitt Taylor Vince) both being told of the protective qualities of an amulet, and both paying no particular attention to wearing it (and Constantine for reasons never adequately explained taking it off of Hennessey himself). There are plenty of lapses in logic and overwhelming coincidences, especially since a central theme of the film is that both God and Satan are restrained to not interfere directly in the affairs of men.

What does work well are the minions of light and darkness. Tilda Swinton is an ambiguously sexual Gabriel, sneering and diffident, and not entirely sympathetic with Constantine's mission of redemption. The demonic emissary, Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale), is smooth and quite effective in his proud subversion of man. The film alters the story to make these entities "half-breeds," spirits of the respective sides, cloaked in human bodies. Both of them have a terrific time with their parts, and deliver their dialogue with deft aplomb, even when it's fairly awkward. The writing is rather thin, with altogether too much exposition that goes nowhere. Reeves is awful as always, taking what should be the world-weary character of Constantine and turning him into a dull-witted poseur. He just can't be taken seriously as he postures and delivers pompous dialogue. To be fair, some of his more effective scenes of dealing with his illness are bumped into the deleted scenes section. Weisz is pretty much wasted, spending altogether too much of the running time thrashing about in water.

For a picture that's devoted to hellfire, it's an awfully wet movie. There seems to be water everywhere, with constant rain, drownings, and even use of water to travel astrally. That's sense of deluge is a traditional noir trapping, to be sure, but it seems uneasily juxtaposed with the visions of hellfire on display. The sequences in hell (starting with the studio credits) are highly effective, with the CGI making some devastating depictions that aren't derived from Doré, but have some of the same impact. It's just too bad that one doesn't much care whether the main characters are damned to such punishment.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 1080p transfer looks gorgeous, with the many dark scenes looking spectacular. There is plenty of detail present throughout. The colors are vivid, especially in the nighttime sequences. The scenes bathed in red come off particularly well, lacking the noise of the standard version. There's a little bit of ringing, but nothing distracting at all. This would make a reasonably good showpiece disc.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The HD DVD sports a Dolby TruHD track as well as a DD+ 5.1 English track. The DD+ track has an excellent range and tons of LFE, giving a good impact throughout. The soundstage is highly immersive, with the surrounds being quite active throughout. It's sonically quite satisfying, with nothing to complain about. 5.1 French and 2.0 Spanish tracks are also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 34 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Korean with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
13 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
14 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1) director Francis Lawrence and producer Akiva Goldsman; 2) writers Kevin Brodbin and Frank A. Cappello
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. iHD commentary feature
Extras Review: Constantine marks the first disc from Warner with the iHD feature. This allows you to play the film with an accompanying picture-in-picture commentary with illustrative materials (including storyboards and animatics) that comment on the film. It's fairly similar to the video commentaries that Anchor Bay put on certain of its Highlander DVD sets. It does have some awkward points, foremost being that it's not selectable on the fly. If you go to the iHD feature while the film is running, it starts over from the beginning (though you can exit iHD mode and continue on with the film without it). This is clumsy implementation, and may be connected to the continued failure of Warner to implement the "Resume Play" flag on any of their HD DVDs. Without being able to selectively choose when to turn on the iHD, it doesn't have a lot of interactivity to it. There seems to be a fair amount of duplication with the featurettes, which seem to be the source of much of the iHD track, but it is expertly edited together to make a whole here.

This HD DVD also contains all of the copious supplements that are on the standard version as well, starting with a pair of commentaries that are fairly effusive but talk a lot about variant versions of the film and the script that are quite interesting. Neither one has any significant gaps and fans of the film will definitely appreciate all the additional information. There are also 14 featurettes on a variety of topics from the standard-issue special effects analysis to a mythologist's somewhat pretentious view of the cosmology of John Constantine. Thirteen deleted scenes, most of them quite brief, make much more of Constantine's illness. While I can see the studio's reluctance to include such material as a downer, it would have helped give a bit more urgency to the picture. There's also an alternative ending that is a variant on the coda that presently appears after the credits. There's dispensable music video, and a pair of trailers. It's hard to imagine much more being included.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

A clumsy horror comic adaptation, but the transfer is gorgeous, and if you like it there are tons of extras, including some exclusive to the HD DVD.

 


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