COMIC-CON: Keanu Reeves shows us CONSTANTINE
by Patrick Sauriol and Den Shewman
When a bearded Keanu Reeves walked out on the stage last Friday at the San Diego Comic Convention panel for CONSTANTINE, a wave of thunderous applause greeted him. Thousands were in the audience to see Reeves, his CONSTANTINE co-star Djimon Hounsou, director Francis Lawrence and Vertigo group editor Karen Berger talk about the new movie based on the HELLRAISER horror comic book series. While he appeared to be a little sunburnt on the face, Reeves looked quite happy to be there to talk about his new movie.
Created by SWAMP THING writer Alan Moore more than two decades ago, the comic character of John Constantine is a true rogue, the occult world's equivalent of Han Solo. Draped in a trenchcoat and a chain smoker, the British Constantine from comics was first designed to mirror the lead singer of one of the world's biggest bands at the time: the blonde-haired lead singer of the Police, Sting. Eventually the character was spun off into his own monthly book, HELLBLAZER, which has just celebrated its two hundredth issue. As a man, Constantine can prove to be just as deadly to his friends and relatives as the demons and hellborne adversaries he constantly faces. Nevertheless, it's his humanity to try and do the right thing -- no matter what the consequences may be -- that make John Constantine one of the more fascinating characters in comics today.
When asked by someone in the crowd what attracted him to play a character like Constantine, Reeves said that he likes characters that are "trying for redemption, trying to be better. I'm not doing that well on it personally, but I got together with Francis and hopefully we made a good picture.
"It's one of the best experiences I've ever had in making a film... I really like the character."
While it's quite apparent that the movie version of the magician won't sport golden locks or a British accent, director Lawrence said that they strived not depart from what works in the book. "[We] really stayed true to who Constantine is," said Lawrence. "He's a con man. He's a magician." Lawrence did explain that they had to change the film's title to avoid any confusion with Clive Barker's HELLRAISER series of films, but apart from that factoid and the decision to Americanize Constantine and his home turf, there are no other differences that he can think of.
Reeves added that he worked closely with the film's director and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman to get, as he puts it, the comic's "Constantinian Constantine" transported into the world of film. "He's not quite happy with the way the world works, and I can relate."
Vertigo group editor Karen Berger was there to witness the birth of the character when she edited SWAMP THING back when Moore wrote the title, so she's probably the most qualified person in the room to pass judgement on the cinematic version of Constantine. Berger told the crowd that she had just seen the movie on the Warner Brothers lot a few days ago, and she had already formed an opinion about it. "It really felt like HELLBLAZER," Berger said to the audience. "It really looked like a Vertigo world. The movie feels right."
Djimon Hounson, who plays Constantine ally Papa Midnite, also felt that the look of the movie was a big selling point for him. Said the actor, "The visual reality of CONSTANTINE hit home for me personally being as I came from a world that knows voodoo."
Even though a whopping 18 minutes of footage from the movie was shown, nobody wanted to talk in detail about what the film's storyline was, although it did come out that the picture incorporates story elements from HELLBLAZER writers Garth Ennis and Jamie Delano's runs on the book.
Finally, the question arose as to just how hardcore a CONSTANTINE movie could be without receiving a hard R-rating. While Francis Lawrence ducked around addressing whether they intended to make a movie with a PG-13 or higher rating, he did say that the movie was in the process of receiving its rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. Lawrence said that he wanted the film to be scary and intense, and he thinks they have succeeded. "I think the tone is dead-on for the comic," Lawrence finished saying.
CONSTANTINE is scheduled to open February 11, 2005.