A Sneak Peek at Constantine Footage

Warner Brothers and director Francis Lawrence recently invited a few select people to see twenty-five minutes of footage from Constantine, their upcoming movie based on DC Comics’ Hellblazer. For the uninitiated, John Constantine is a mystical detective of sorts, using his wits and mystical abilities to fight demons. The character was created by Alan Moore (“Watchmen,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”) as the cynical, chain-smoking foil to the Swamp Thing, but the dark nature of the character made him the perfect character to kick-off DC’s mature Vertigo Comics line in 1992. Unlike the heroes of other comic book movies, Constantine is not exactly a superhero. He wears a trench coat instead of spandex, and he’s not exactly a role model for the kiddies because of the smoking thing.

The movie has been in the works for many years, and diehard fans of the series-of which I am definitely one-might have been skeptical about a dark-haired “yank” taking the place of Moore’s blonde Brit from the comics. Since that American actor is Keanu Reeves, the most obvious reference point will obviously be “The Matrix,” but having seen this footage, fans might be pleasantly surprised at how much of the flavor and tone of the comic books has been retained. Most of this can be attributed to Lawrence, and Constantine is his first feature film after directing commercials and many music videos for the likes of Aerosmith, Justin, Britney and others.

The footage shown included snippets of varying lengths from the movie including five extra minutes not shown at the San Diego Comic Con; the effects had been further developed, as well. (NOTE: If you have absolutely no interest in knowing anything about what happens in the movie before seeing it, stop reading here. Minor spoilers ahead.)

The footage opener is a moody bit with Keanu capturing cigarette smoke in a glass saying the “welcome to my life” line from the trailer. It then cuts to a desert, possibly in Mexico, where two men discover a creepy underground cave and find an artifact that looks like a spearhead inside. We don’t see that again, so its purpose in the story is never clear.

The movie takes its cue from the comic book story “Dangerous Habits”, written by Hellblazer fan favorite Garth Ennis, introduced with a scene of Keanu coughing up blood and then visiting a doctor who breaks the bad news that he has cancer. A few minutes later we see Constantine trying to exorcise a “soldier demon” from a little girl, driving home the look and feel of “The Exorcist” evoked by the earlier scene in the desert. This is the first time we see this ugly CGI demon that will appear in other segments, as well as seeing how Constantine uses everyday objects to fight these demons.

A short scene follows between Constantine and his supplier of demon-fighting artifacts including a sly reference to “The Amityville Horror,” and then Constantine is sitting by a gas station-smoking, of course-when a crab walks by his foot. Second later, he is fighting off a strange demon made up of insects and crustaceans. (This effect looked the most like it was still in progress.)

Many of the characters from the comics were briefly shown. Tilda (“The Deep End”) Swinton plays the fallen angel Gabriel, and Oscar-nominated actor Djimon Honsou plays Papa Midnight, both having dialogue scenes with Constantine. Some of the dialogue sounded a bit corny, but it might have been because it was taken out of context. The oddest casting may be Shia LaBeouf as John’s ever-present cab-driving pal Chaz. In this case, he’s given the last name Kramer and partakes in LaBeouf’s usual wisecracking comic relief, similar to his completely useless character in “I, Robot”. He seems a bit too young to play one of the most consistent supporting characters from the Hellblazer books. (One character not shown in the footage was Lucifer, but Lawrence mentioned that the popular character is being played by quirky Swedish character actor Peter Stormare.)

Rachel Weisz’s character Angela Dodson is introduced in a scene where she is researching John Constantine on the Internet. When they meet, we learn that she needs his help in finding out why her twin sister committed suicide. After an encounter with flying demons similar to the earlier one exorcised from the little girl, Constantine’s investigation takes him to hell where we see more of these ugly creatures sneaking up behind him. (The effects in these last two scenes were very good, comparable to those in “Pitch Black”.)

After this, there’s a short sequence with Constantine facing a rather dapper demon named Balthazar, played by singer Gavin Rosdale from the rock band Bush. Cut to Constantine and Dodson walking down a hall after that confrontation, when she is suddenly grabbed and ripped through the entire office building as Constantine chases after her. In the teaser you can see a bit of that scene, but it’s more impressive when you see it in its entirety with Keanu chasing after her.

One of the last scenes has Constantine standing in front of a group of people in a room. He uses his cigarette to set off a sprinkler, apparently filled with holy water, and as they’re exposed as demons, they attack him in a scene that could have been taken directly from Blade, with Keanu blasting them apart with a crucifix shaped gun.

The footage ended with a sequence showing Constantine as a boy on a bus where he sees his first demon in a moment right out of “The Sixth Sense,” although it was unclear where in the movie this scene may happen.

Probably the best thing about the footage is that we see Keanu Reeves playing Constantine a lot looser than he did Neo in “The Matrix” movies. The cynical humor of the characters suits him better than one might expect, and he doesn’t seem to be taking himself quite as seriously.

Overall, the movie looks quite good. It’s darker, moodier and more character-driven than most comic book based movies–some scenes even looked like they were an attempt to create film noir– but there is a good amount of action and scares to keep things from getting boring. It’s hard to determine how the story might play out because the sequences were so short, making it hard to get into the mood, but the effects and action look solid, and it should make the movie an entertaining experience even to those unfamiliar to the character.

Constantine will open on February 18, 2005.

Source: Edward Douglas