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The Ninth Gate(1999)
Dean Corso is highly skilled at his work, a position which requires dexterity, cultural expertise, nerves of steel... and few scruples. Known for locating rare books for wealthy collectors, Corso is hired by eminent book-lover and scholar of demonology, Boris Balkan. Corson's mission: to find the last two volumes of legendary manual of satanic invocation "The Ninth Gates of the Shadow Kingdom," compare them Balkan's first volume, supposedly the only one of its kind, and ascertain the authenticity of the series. Corso accepts the challenge. From New York to Toledo, Paris to Cintra, he immerses himself in a labyrinth full of pitfalls and temptations, disturbing encounters, violence and mysterious deaths. Protected by an angelic creature and guided by a force more powerful than himself, Corso solves one by one the mysteries of the dreaded Book and discovers the real purpose of his mission.
For more about The Ninth Gate and the The Ninth Gate Blu-ray release, see the The Ninth Gate Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on August 14, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin, Emmanuelle Seigner, Barbara Jefford, Jack Taylor
Director: Roman Polanski
» See full cast & crew
The Ninth Gate Blu-ray Review
Can a single performance save a flawed genre dud?
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, August 14, 2009
Controversial Academy Award-winning director Roman Polanski has been accused of a lot of things over the course of his career, but none have stuck as firmly as the critical assertion that he is one of the industry's preeminent directors; a master filmmaker responsible for genre-defining tour de forces like Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby, neo-noir masterpieces like Chinatown, haunting period films like The Pianist, and overlooked gems like Death and the Maiden. While the boundary-pushing director has faltered just as often as he's excelled, his canon is rife with timeless classics and memorable successes. Unfortunately, The Ninth Gate isn't one of his finer works, nor is it considered to be anything remotely resembling a horror staple. Panned by critics, brushed aside by fans, and ignored at the box office, it doesn't have a lot to offer... except for a captivating performance by one of Hollywood's finest: Johnny Depp.
Based on a novel by Spanish author Arturo Pérez-Reverte, The Ninth Gate tells the innocuous, somewhat incoherent tale of a rare-book dealer's descent into darkness. Hired to authenticate an ancient manuscript -- 17th century author and esoterist Aristide Torchia's "The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows" -- for a conceited collector named Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), a chain-smoking rare-books dealer named Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) heads to Europe and gets entangled in a bizarre, Satanic conspiracy involving a cult who believe they've found a way to summon the Devil. As he gets closer and closer to the unholy truth, Corso enlists the help of a mysterious woman (Emmanuelle Seigner), contends with the advances of an influential and manipulative widow (Lena Olin), and struggles to understand how any book could be worth the lives and deaths of so many people. By the time he deciphers the riddle of the manuscript's engravings and discovers the true nature of their design, Corso is forced to face evil itself and come to terms with its twisted desires.
The Ninth Gate is third (or fourth) tier Polanski at best, unraveling through a cliché-ridden third act that hinges on a single love-it-or-hate-it twist most horror connoisseurs will see coming the moment Corso accepts his devil's deal. It suffers from pacing issues (slow doesn't bother me, but uneven is a pet peeve), stilted dialogue, laughably eccentric supporting characters, a parting sequence that goes nowhere, and a dopey, dark-rights ritual and reveal that pays homage to, but falls terribly short of, similar scenes in Rosemary's Baby. The cast certainly has a good time dwelling in the absurdity of it all -- particularly Langella who seems to be the only actor to successfully revel in Polanski's intended tone -- but the results would have been much stronger had everyone involved, including the director himself, taken their cues from Depp's fantastic, low-key performance. After its release, Polanski commented that his leading man played Corso "rather flat" and not at all as he had envisioned. But Depp is the only thing that holds the unwieldy proceedings together. His restraint makes Corso more appealing, his delivery makes gives his every word more weight and legitimacy, and his naturalistic expressions are far more convincing than those of his wide-mouthed, crazy-eyed supporting cast. Depp is the sole reason to watch and, to some extent, enjoy The Ninth Gate. His presence is commanding (at least until Polanski hijacks the ending and forces good ol' Captain Jack to join his fire-n-brimstone charade), and his vision for the character is sound.
That being said, even Polanski's lesser works are more arresting and provocative than the majority of genre drivel crawling out of Hollywood these days. Before The Ninth Gate jumps the pentagram at its midway point (and continues to do so until the credits roll), Polanski serves up an intriguing, almost fascinating character study that left me wanting to follow Depp's character on more adventures in rare book collecting. Considering a large amount of screentime is devoted to watching Corso stare at old manuscripts and rifle through yellowed pages, you'd think the film would put anyone and everyone to sleep. But the director manages to create a palpable urgency; a momentum that overcomes the trappings of the tale, drives its hero forward, and pushes him into places unknown. It's just a shame Polanski felt the need to leap off the beaten path, pursuing flights of Satanic whimsy and indulging in every over-the-top genre convention imaginable. Ah well, The Ninth Gate remains an interesting oddity; one that features Depp doing what he does best. It's far from perfect and it's certainly flawed, but it entertains a bit more often than it disappoints. Adjust your expectations, give it a spin, and see if it works for you.
The Ninth Gate Blu-ray, Video Quality
Stumbling onto the stage with a soft and murky 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer, The Ninth Gate looks more like a first generation Blu-ray release than a recently remastered catalog title. Colors are muddy and flat, skintones are dull and half-baked, and blacks, while deep during daylit scenes, have trouble resolving themselves at night. Contrast is occasionally underwhelming as well, severely reducing depth in quite a few shots and often leaving dimensionality out in the cold. Worse still, detail is all over the place. Several close-ups look pretty good (particularly when compared to the god-awful standard DVD presentation), but edges remain doughy, establishing shots are spongy, and textures are waxy and indistinct. Matters improve as the film waddles along, but the transfer never reaches the heights of most catalog releases. I have no doubt Polanski's chosen camera lenses play a role in the image's softness, but it was easy to distinguish between Polanski's careful use of artistic diffusion and the side effects of the studio's overzealous application of noise reduction. Plasticized faces, soupy grain, and smeared facial textures plague the picture, hindering the source material and undermining the integrity of the director's photography. On a more positive note, artifacting, banding, aliasing, and edge enhancement are kept at bay, and delineation is surprisingly revealing. Short praise, I know, but few other compliments come to mind.
It would have been nice to see The Ninth Gate earn the sort of overhaul Criterion recently afforded Polanski's Repulsion. Granted, the former is a lesser film and the latter is a genre classic, but more effort, polish, and faithfulness would have certainly helped The Ninth Gate escape its bargain bin prison and earn some respect.
The Ninth Gate Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Ninth Gate boasts a strong (albeit fairly unspectacular) DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track that, arguable overkill aside, faithfully reproduces every sonic nuance of the film's subdued soundscape and fat-fingered musical score. Dialogue is crisp and clean, prioritization is spot on, and directionality is precise. Moreover, LFE output adds some much-needed power to Polanski's chase sequences, and rear speaker activity, while admittedly spotty, enhances the atmosphere of the tale (particularly during the black hood, red curtain shenanigans that dominate the third act). The sound design itself is a bit dated -- had I not known the film was shot and edited in the late '90s, I would have guessed it had been made many years earlier -- but, considering the director's expressed intentions, it's hardly the fault of the technical track. Pans are smooth, the soundfield is a bit front-heavy but ultimately immersive, and dynamics are solid. The mix certainly doesn't deliver the refined and memorable experience I expected from a lossless 7.1 surround track, but it nevertheless leaves its mark and gets the job done in style.
The Ninth Gate Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
A near-worthless assortment of special features have been ported over from Ninth Gate's standard DVD, only one of which -- Polanski's breezy and informative director's commentary -- adds anything of value to the release. The remaining material is brief, dated and, at times, frustrating. Yawn...
The Ninth Gate Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Ninth Gate isn't one of Polanski's best. In fact, if it weren't for Johnny Depp's solid performance, I'd probably be calling it one of Polanski's worst. Still, there's some fun to be had in its clumsy brush with the devil; enough so to justify the film's small but stalwart fanbase. Sadly, fans, critics, and newcomers alike will be disappointed with this high definition mess. While it does offer an impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track, it's saddled with a mediocre video transfer and a limp supplemental package. Does it look better than the standard DVD? Most definitely. Is it worth its bargain bin price? Just barely. I would suggest adding this risky genre dud to your Netflix queue long before considering a purchase.
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Lionsgate Home Entertainment has announced the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'The Haunting in Connecticut', which is due to hit store shelves on July 14th, day-and-date with the DVD release. Additionally, they have announced ...
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