Movie Novelisation

Author: John Shirley
Pocket Books
RRP 6.99, US $6.99, Cdn $10.50

ISBN 0 7434 9755 4
Available 07 February 2005

Hidden from mortal eyes are the angels and demons that coexist with mankind... supernatural beings who seek to influence our lives for better and for worse. Amoral and irreverent renegade occultist and paranormal detective John Constantine is blessed and cursed with the ability to interact with this secret world. When Constantine teams up with sceptical L.A. policewoman Angela Dodson to solve the mysterious suicide of her twine sister, their investigation catapults them into a catastrophic series of otherworldly events - even as the forces of Hell conspire against Constantine to claim his immortal soul...

Constantine is based on the character John Constantine from the popular Hellblazer series of graphic novels. When I first heard that a movie was going to be made based on this series I was a little concerned. My first thoughts were that a movie would be unfilmable - if you wanted to do the character justice. I was also confused as to why the film producers had decided to call the movie Constantine instead of Hellblazer, but I suppose it sounds a little too much like Hellbreeder.

Author John Shirley (who is working from a screenplay by Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello) will already be familiar to horror fans. He is the author of Crawlers and Demons. He was also a co-screenwriter for The Crow. With that in mind, Shirley seems suitably qualified to write this book.

John Constantine was born with a gift that he didn't really want - the ability to recognise the half-breed angels and demons that roam the earth disguised as humans. Unhappy with this gift, Constantine is driven to commit suicide. His attempt fails and he is resuscitated. Now he patrols the earthly border between heaven and hell, hoping in vain to earn his way to salvation by waging war on the earthbound minions of evil. But Constantine is no saint. Increasingly disillusioned by the world around him and at odds with the one beyond, he's a hard-drinking, hard-living bitter hero. Constantine will fight to save your soul but he doesn't want your admiration or your thanks. All he wants is a way out. When a police detective called Angela Dodson enlists his help in solving the mysterious death of her twin sister, their investigation takes them through the world of demons and angels that exists in Los Angeles.

Reading this book, I have still to see the movie (as there is still a month until it is released here in the UK) and to be honest I'm torn between whether I actually will. The plot is not a million miles away from the Hellblazer universe. And, as I read it I still had the image of the graphic novel Constantine in my head (not the Keanu Reeves version from the movie). It's questionable whether die-hard Hellblazer fans will be drawn into the narrative - there is a little dumbing down in order to suck in non-graphic novel fans.

Part of the charm of Hellblazer, for me anyway, is the fact that it is has a bitty narrative. While there is an ongoing thread that ties all the episodes together, each story flies off on another tangent and you're never entirely sure where you'll be led. Sadly that isn't (and to be fair couldn't) be the case with this story.

There were also some parallels to be drawn between Reeves's best known role - as Neo in The Matrix. He lives in one world, yet doesn't really belong there; he can see and do things that other's can't; and he has powers that mere mortals don't possess. But, more disturbingly, this book read like a very poor Angel novel.

But, while I enjoyed this book, I couldn't help thinking that as a movie it just wouldn't work that well. There's not that much of a story here - not to span over 90 minutes anyway and the more I thought about it, the more (as I mentioned before) like The Matrix this seemed to be.

Fans of the graphic novels will probably be very disappointed but it will probably appeal to those who will see the movie and are not that familiar with the origins of the comic book character.

Ray Thompson

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