The Ninth Gate (1999)

by | Jul 3, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

The Ninth Gate (1999)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin
Director: Roman Polanski
Studio: Lionsgate
Video: 2.35:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen, color
Audio: DD 5.1, DD 2.0 English
No subtitles
Extras: Commentary by Roman Polanski, Isolated music score only, Featurette on making of the film, Gallery of Satanic drawings, 3 Theatrical trailers, TV spots, Cast & crew info, Production notes
Length: 133 minutes
Rating: ****

This was a love it or hate it film with many viewers, and mainly the latter with critics. If you like supernatural thrillers, this is your baby. In fact, the Da Vinci Code tried to be that and failed miserably.  I see The Ninth Gate as a sort of black Da Vinci Code.  Instead of looking for evidence of the descendants of Jesus, the protagonists are looking for the Devil.  Why they would want him God knows.

Depp will never be accused of overacting. He plays a thoroughly unprincipled rare book dealer (who in one interpretation might be the devil himself) hired by a powerful businessman who owns one of the only three copies of a 15th century book supposedly co-written with Lucifer – who even signs his initials in the fine print of some of the woodcuts illustrated The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadow. The businessman wants Depp to compare his book with the other two in Europe to see if there are any discrepancies in any of them. His secret plan is to assemble the authentic illustrations signed by the devil which he feels will either conjure up Satan or make him supernaturally powerful, or both. It wouldn’t be a spoiler to say he doesn’t succeed very well.

As Depp goes on his rare book detective work, people connected with the books die violently, and he is threatened several times himself. His guardian angel (or demon?) is a young lady with especially intriguing eyes and supernatural gifts.  The book keeps getting stolen from him and he keeps recovering it.  Some of the scenes plod a bit, but the atmosphere of the arcane libraries and book collections is well communicated.  And at least Depp never says at a dicey moment “I’ve got to get to a library!” as did Tom Hanks. The role of the girl could have been better explained, as well as the book detective’s obsession with finding out if the book could really conjure up the Devil – since he says he didn’t believe in all the Satanic farrago anyway. The ending left one viewer calling it the worst ending in the history of movies, and I have to agree it seems a letdown – way too sudden and incomplete.  Yet on the other hand if you interpret the book detective character as being Lucifer himself, it all makes perfect sense. The opening sequence of the film may be one of the best beginnings of any film – a long and hypnotic series of zooms thru gates and doorways with all the film’s credits displayed.

The many dark scenes in libraries demand perfect tuning of your brightness and contrast settings or things will appear either washed out or too Rembrandtesque.  The transfer is very good – few DVDs of recent films seem to have annoying edge enhancement artifacts anymore. Some of the scenes are impressive photographically, and the musical score by Wojciech Kilar is hauntingly beautiful, as are most of his many film scores. (He did The Truman Story, among others.)

 – John Sunier


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