Roman Polanski is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the films he’s made over the years, but one of his efforts from earlier this decade stands out as being…well, rather unassuming and poorly received. The film I’m talking about is, of course, The Ninth Gate. The film starred Johnny Depp and centered on a devilish (literally) occult that met for years in an attempt to summon Lucifer. Despite a solid cast and an intriguing plot, the film was ultimately advertised as more of a horror film than anything and as a result of mixed reviews and uneven advertising, the film performed poorly in domestic box office receipts, although made a solid $20 million back on top of its budget when worldwide ticket sales were taken into account. Still, of all of Polanski’s films this is perhaps one of the least talked about…and for good reason.
Directed by Academy Award® winner Roman Polanski (The Pianist, 2002), the film stars three-time Academy Award® nominee Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Finding Neverland, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) as Dean Corso, an unscrupulous rare-book dealer who is hired to locate the last remaining copies of a demonic manuscript with the power to summon the Devil. Corso must overcome both physical and supernatural obstacles as he finds himself embroiled in a deadly conspiracy and, ultimately, a confrontation with the devil incarnate.
I can remember advertisements for this film when it was in theaters, but at the time I had little desire to see a horror movie. Even now I wasn’t exactly jumping at the idea of watching the film, but I’ve grown to appreciate Depp over the years and the film looked like it could be entertaining enough—it’s certainly grown a bit of a cult following of its own. When I first started watching it, I immediately started getting an End of Days vibe, which wasn’t necessarily bad as that film started out alright before turning to crap. But this film never really got stupid in any real sense of the word; it certainly grew stranger by the scene, but the films main flaw is just its length—despite the box stating it was only 93 minutes long, it was actually over two hours long…quite a difference. While it helped the story breathe and provide mystery, it just ultimately dragged on; entire sequences could have been cut if need be and while it’s always nice to get characterization in, the film really just suffers from needlessly slow and lengthy sequences.
The film had its positive angles, of course. It had a solid mystery, which also extended over into the whole plot itself in that it was constantly balancing between a film about Satan to a film about people worshipping Satan. There’s a difference between the two as it could either be a demonic story or a story about an occult, but in the end it really left you feeling like it was a genuine film about Satan…yet at the same time it left you with so many questions that you really just wondered if the film was being overly vague or if it just had that little plot.
Looking at discussions of the story online has opened my eyes to how deep this film is…or could be, if you dig deep enough. That’s the problem with the film; on the outset it’s a very superficial and basic film. But if you burrow into the layers a bit more you find some interconnecting and intertwined elements that the film doesn’t really make light of. It requires you to have knowledge of Satan and ancient lore to really appreciate the film and all of its allegories. Perhaps if they’d spent more time explaining these things than having Depp take forever to find the books and research them, it could have been a much stronger film.
Not to mention the various things left hanging. I won’t even touch the ending of this (talk about vague), but the random deaths and things that happen around Depp’s character. What is the deal behind the scaffolding between the buildings tumbling down around him? Where does that come into play? It’s incredibly strange and just an annoying occurrence that is never divulged. Then who the woman is and that…strange sex sequence outside of a burning castle just left more questions. If anything the film just fell down like a bad game of Jenga at the end. Whatever thin plot lines that were able to hold on just crumbled under the weight of the strange and utter weirdness that bathed our screens.
Of course not all of it was bad. All of the acting was terrific and I found the lengthy appearance of the Dodge Viper RT/10 to be quite enjoyable, as I’m a huge fan of that car. A bit odd it appeared overseas in all places, but still nice to see, if a bit overly obvious with the imagery (a bright red car named after a snake? Subtle…). The music was also very entertaining, with a bit of a mixture between something from a Hellboy film combined with some kind of 70’s action film (I got flashbacks of The French Connection, but not sure how accurate my ears were in regards to that). Overall it was a solid film in regards to most things…just not the plot. Or CGI, come to think of it…most of it was pretty horrendous.
In the end the film is worth a Rental if you haven’t seen it. I’ve seen quite a few films dealing with Satan and the like and this definitely ranks up there if only for the production qualities of it…but in the end the majority of those films are just very mediocre anyway. I’m sure there’s plenty to glean from The Ninth Gate, but it would simply take too much time and research to really discover how “brilliant” this film could actually be.
Lionsgate brings this film to Blu-ray with a rather unimpressive release. Boasting fewer extras than the previous DVD release, this title comes in a standard Eco Elite Blu-ray case without any inserts and features disc art that mimics the cover. Menus are nicely done, but the video transfer, an AVC encoded 1080p effort, looks quite a mess. I wish I could say it was just the age of the film creeping through, but while the film is a decade old, it’s no real excuse for it to look so…devoid of detail. Likely a result of DNR, the video just looks incredibly murky and very disappointing. The transfer improves as it goes along but it never quite reaches the mark of even serviceable Blu-ray…instead it looks about as good as an upscaled DVD.
Audio is a rather quiet 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track…both in volume and surround work. Surrounds are subdued and the subwoofer rumbles occasionally (and, to my delight, along with the Viper whenever it’s on screen). The audio itself I really had to turn up for some reason, as it was very quiet for the most part. Overall not an exactly exciting film to watch in 7.1 anyway…but thanks for the effort, Lionsgate.
Commentary by Director Roman Polanski
Featurette (2:02, EPK)
Gallery of Satanic Drawings
This isn’t even the entire list of extras off of the old DVD release either (some TV spots or some such are missing). So while the commentary is interesting…well, you’ve heard it before. In fact, nothing about this release is remotely engaging. There’s nothing new, the video and audio are disappointing and there are fewer extras. Final verdict? Skip this one and either hang onto your current DVD or pick it up in the used bin for a couple bucks. No need to trade up to the Blu-ray, little is gained.
The Ninth Gate is now available on Blu-ray.