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Constantine - The House of Mystery
Constantine The House Of Mystery is a collection of four animated shorts featuring characters from throughout the DC Universe, some better known than others, with each of the four shorts prefaced by a pretty fun trip through an old school comic store where the covers of certain books hint at what's to come.
The titular feature starts things off, a twenty-six minute piece that picks up where Justice League Dark: Apokolips War left off. Because of what he's done, John Constantine (voiced by Matt Ryan from the Constantine TV series) finds himself banished to The House Of Mystery with no idea how or why he's wound up there. He soon meets up with some friends like Jason Blood and his lover Zatanna, and discovers that she and he have popped out two kids... who quickly turn into demons and attack him. Constantine resurrects, meets Zatanna in the bedroom and once things start getting hot and heavy, she turns into a demon and attacks him. Realizing something is not right, Constantine tries to escape through a portal in the toilet only to come face to face with The Spectre, who explains why he was banished to The House Of Mystery in the first place. Will Constantine ever make his escape or is he doomed to spend eternity getting killed in increasingly creative ways by his friends and loved ones?
This short works quite well, throwing Constantine into a series of strange circumstances and then letting him use both his magical abilities and his cunning to get out of them already proven to be a tried and true formula for success with the character. Matt Ryan's voice work is great, suiting the character really well, and the rest of the cast do fine work here as well. Because it's short, we don't get as much depth or detail as we would with a full length feature, and this might have been more suitable for that format, but it proves to be a pretty entertaining way to kill half an hour. The animation style is decent, particularly when things go cosmic, although Lou Diamond Phillips isn't maybe the best voice actor to do The Specter. Either way, it's an entertaining mix of humor, horror and general weirdness. There's also a nice reference to a Bernie Wrightson's cover for House Of Mystery #217, which is a nice touch.
Up next is an eighteen minute take on Jack Kirby's Kamnadi: The Last Boy On Earth. The premise here is that Kamandi, who is literally the last boy on Earth after an apocalypse has ruined the planet, must work with a few other beings to make his way through a gauntlet of sorts, where the winner will be declared ‘The Mighty One.'
It's heavy on action and has a few neat plot twists along the way that help to make up for the fact that, again, there isn't a tone of depth here. The animation team scores full marks for doing a nice job of bringing some of Jack Kirby's iconic imagery for the series to animated life, literally lifting images right of the books that inspired the short. Kamandi himself could have looked a little more ‘sqautty' the way some Kirby characters did, but the backgrounds look fantastic and it should make fans of Kirby's weird seventies DC work happy.
The Losers, which is the third short, runs sixteen minutes and is set during World War Two. It features a rag tag group of soldiers made up of Storm, Johnny Cloud, Henry 'Mile A Minute' Jones, Gunner and the mysterious Fan Long (Ming-na Wen from Mulan and Street Fighter!). When they come across a mysterious island somewhere in the South Pacific, a scramble ensues for control over the ultimate weapon, but complicating matters is the presence of a whole bunch of man-eating dinosaurs!
This one might not be as ‘comics accurate' as Kamandi but it's a fun and action packed quickie that gives you pretty much everything you'd want from a cartoon about WWII soldiers fighting dinosaurs. There's a lot of action here and some really strong sound design. The animation looks great and it moves very, very quickly leading up to a pretty solid ending that would seem to settle things pretty definitively (except for the fact that in the world of comic books, nothing is ever truly settled definitively). The voice work is strong here too, and like the other shorts, it might not be deep but it is pretty entertaining.
The best of the bunch, however, is the sixteen minute Blue Beetle cartoon. Made to look like an authentic superhero cartoon from the sixties or early seventies (think the original Spider-Man cartoon or Super Friends and you'll be on the right track), DC could and should turn this into a series, it'd be a lot of fun! The story revolves around the Blue Beetle (Matt Lanter), who is very definitely not Ted Kord, begrudgingly teaming up with The Question (David Kaye) to defeat Dr. Spectro (Tom Kenny) and his army of soda-guzzling Squids and stop them from getting their hands on some sort of crazy ray gun. It's all going well until Captain Atom (Jeff Bennett) and Nightshade (Ashly Burch) show up under Spectro's control!
Done very much in the spirit of the sixties-era Charlton Comics books where these characters, created by Steve Ditko, first appeared, it's impossible not to have fun with this one, particularly if you're of a certain age and may have been raised on some of the cartoons that this drew its inspiration from. It moves quickly but actually manages to offer some funs scenes of The Question (who the creators admit in the supplemental featurette they based on Ditko himself) doing some sleuthing in between the fights and action set pieces. It's all very self-aware and played tongue-in-cheek but the humor works really well and the animation style does a perfect job of capturing the look and feel of vintage superhero goofiness.
Warner Brothers presents Constantine The House Of Mystery on Blu-ray in a 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. As you'd expect for a brand new animated feature there's not a trace of damage or dirt to find, the image is spotless (save for the Blue Beetle short where there's some fake grain and minor damage added to create that sixties/seventies cartoon aesthetic). There are no noticeable compression artifacts on the disc at all and some scenes really exhibit some excellent depth. Black levels are nice and colors are beautifully reproduced here. No complaints, the four different shorts on this disc all look great.
Audio is handled for each short by way of an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix. German and French language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes are also provided and subtitles are offered up in English SDH, French, German, Dutch, and Spanish. The lossless mixes for the shorts are very strong. There's plenty of immersive surround activity noticeable throughout the movies while the dialogue sounds clean and clear from start to finish. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and there's nice, strong bass noticeable throughout that provides some nice punch during the different stories' many action set pieces (especially The Losers which features a lot of shooting and explosions and what not).
The sole extra feature on the disc is a sixteen minute featurette called DC Showcase: One Feature At A Time where the directors of the four different shorts talk about what it was like working on these lesser known characters, their goals with the project and what they tried to bring to the stories. It's interesting enough to be worth checking out and it's nice seeing both Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko referenced here.
This release also comes with an insert card for a digital HD download version of the movie and a nice foil slipcover.
Constantine House Of Mystery offers up a pretty fun and varied mix of comic book inspired action. While the feature attraction is going to be the main draw for most viewers, the other shorts are just as good, if not better, with the Blue Beetle piece standing out as the best of the bunch. The Blu-ray is light on extras, sadly, but the featurette is interesting and the presentation quality is very good. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.