Those of us lucky enough to make it in to room 6BCF at SDCC this past weekend were treated to a screening of a pilot episode of new NBC series ‘Constantine’ based on the comics of the same name and also the ‘Hellblazer’ and perhaps even ‘Justice League: Dark’ titles. We know a lot of you are probably thinking ‘I’ve seen this already, it leaked ages ago!’ but the version screened at Comic Con was a newly updated version with new special effects and a reshot ending to help smooth over the exit of Lucy Griffiths.
Before we get ahead of ourselves let’s start at the beginning: I haven’t read a huge amount of the ‘Constantine’ or ‘JL: Dark’ titles and to this day I haven’t read an issue of ‘Hellblazer’ though I will rectify that in the near future so this review will be based purely on the merits of the pilot itself and not on it’s ability to translate the comic to TV.
Matt Ryan plays the dark, dry humour of the lead character well throughout the episode although at times he struggles to mark his Welsh accent which came through even more so during the Q&A session after the pilot had screened. He appears in almost every scene of the pilot, which is expected given that he’s the lead, so there’s a huge amount of expectation for him to be able to carry the show throughout. There are weaker moments: some of the scenes in the institution feel forced in to explaining the motivations of the character to the audience but this is a pilot so that can be forgiven.
The stronger moments come when Constantine is forced to deal with the loss of Astra and the impact it has had on his existence. Some of the best scenes in the pilot are those that he shares with Harold Perrineau’s Manny. but we’ll get to him personally in a minute. The pilot goes to great lengthy to portray a cockiness to Constantine which was so sorely missed from the 2005 film which starred Keanu Reeves in the title role, it’s a characteristic which could only be pulled off in this way by a Brit so I’m glad the producers made sure to cast one for the role.
David S. Goyer and Daniel Cerone said it perfectly during the panel by saying that ‘Matt IS Constantine’ whilst explaining that they read a huge number of actors for the role before Matt walked in and blew them away and after watching the pilot it is genuinely hard to disagree with them.
The supporting cast, made up in the pilot of Perrineau, Charles Halford and Griffiths. are all well suited to their roles. The biggest part in the pilot falls to Perrineau whose role was written expressly for the show. During the SDCC panel he talked about his excitement at being a part of the ‘Constantine’ universe and bringing something fresh to the table and it definitely works. There’s still some work to be done on the chemistry between the angel and the petty dabbler but the beginnings of a dynamic relationship are there and the dialogue between the two really is a highlight of the show so far. The two characters balance each other out on screen and Manny’s constant questioning of Constantine might help add to the light relief thrown in between all the drama.
Halford plays Chas who is one of Constantine’s oldest surviving friends, as Halford explained to the SDCC audience most of Constantine’s friends don’t last very long, and the closest he has to a side-kick. He dips in-and-out of the pilot but his scenes are some of the more fun moments in the show and I’m looking forward to seeing the companionship between these two as Constantine doesn’t have many links to a normal life.
It’s undeniable that Liv Aberdine, played by Lucy Griffiths, is the weakest character in the pilot but I mean that in the nicest possible way. I wouldn’t say the quality of the acting is bad and likewise I also wouldn’t say that the her character is poorly written. She just… doesn’t work. She’s there, she’s in danger, she has a history that ties in with Constantine and allows us to learn more about him but really she’s nothing more than the subject of the pilot and it seems that all involved felt that was the way it should stay. She’ll be replaced by Angelica Celaya who will join the series as Zed.
There’s also a part to play here for Jeremy Davies who plays another of Constantine’s ‘old friends’ and thankfully one with the technical know-how to allow him to knock out all the power in the city just when the time calls for a big climactic battle. His character seems to have been massively effected due to Constantine and his past so hopefully the show keeps him around to delve in to some more of the consequences of Constantine’s past actions.
One thing which really impressed me about this pilot was that it felt much more like watching a movie than a TV show. There were several scenes which included long sweeping camera movements which felt far too cinematic for a Friday night on NBC. The use of crane shots was really prominent and in many cases called for due to the nature of the sets in use but still great to see in a TV show. If the crew can keep the level of production up throughout the series then I hope this show can find the audience it deserves and become a hit.
Speaking of sets there were a few impressive ones of those on show as well, firstly and fore mostly the Constantine-cave. I hope the writers find a way to continue using this despite its ties to Liv as there is clearly a wealth of information hidden down there not least a very obvious reference to Doctor Fate which caused the entire room to gasp.
To carry off this show authentically is going to require a healthy budget for special effects but I’m glad to say that in this pilot they are put to genuinely good use. The leaked version of the pilot features many of the same effects aside from the rooftop scene towards the end of the episode but the quality was not great but to see the show projected in HD quality there was clearly a lot of love put in to every image shown on screen from the cockroaches in the institution to the ball of fire reaching up to the sky in the climax. I want to say that CGI effects were photo-realistic but I’m not sure that term applies when discussing demons and fire balls. Again in the production team can continue to keep the level of effects like this throughout the season there should be no issue in it finding an audience.
It would be impossible to touch on this show without talking about the score provided by none other than Bear McCreary of ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Eureka’ fame. The music is modern but with a brilliant baroque twist, it’s not necessarily new ground but it’s undeniably catchy as part of the show and not necessarily what you would be used to hearing on a Friday night during primetime. David S. Goyer went as far as to bring Bear out on stage at SDCC for all of thirty seconds to rapturous applause to make sure the crowd were aware who was behind the soundscape of the show.
There’s a lot of meat to ‘Constantine’ and with its time slot in the schedule it has every chance to maximise dark side of the dark arts which I hope it does so to the best of its ability. This show as solid casting, solid writing and a high production value and I hope the audience appreciate it.
Don’t watch the leaked copy unless you are curious as to how this pilot started out its life. For now wait until the show premieres on 24th October at 21:00 on NBC.