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THE NINTH GATE

Review by Alex Haberstroh

The Ninth Gate
Artisan / 2000 / 133Minutes / Rated R  

Film ****

Satanism and the ever-present battle of good vs. evil has been a much “beaten to death” topic lately.  A barrage of forgettable, disposable crap ranging from Schwarzenegger’s End of Days (in my opinion little more than the plot of Eraser, with the Devil substituted for evil government agents), to the utterly atrocious Stigmata, which left me wanting to be crucified so as to be put out of my misery.   There is even the new Kim Basinger film entitled Bless this Child that also deals with the Devil.  Filmmakers of late, possibly bolstered by the success of the ridiculous new teen horror flicks, have come to have quite an affinity for putting out films about evil itself, or in people.  This great fascination with evil eventually led them to evil’s origins and then to Satan.  Sadly though, the studios have come up short, creating characters who are not believable and plots with gaping holes.

Needless to say, when The Ninth Gate was released, I cringed, fearing that yet another two hours of my life would be stolen away.  I decided to ignore it in theaters and catch it on DVD.  So when I put in the disc by Artisan I was pleasantly surprised, finding the movie to have both a wonderful cast and enticing story. 

The movie is centered around Dean Corso, a rare book finder, or “book detective.”  Corso is both greedy and unscrupulous, as in one of the first scenes in the movie he swindles the adult children of a book collector, who is now paralyzed in a wheelchair.   

Not long after this, Corso is called to the skyscraper of Boris Balkan, a man the viewer is led to believe is a very good customer who needs Corso to authenticate whether his copy of a book called, you guessed it, “The Nine Gates” is in fact the genuine article.   The book, as the audience soon finds out, was written by a man who was burned at the stake for devil worship, along with all of his books save three.  “The Nine Gates,” Balkan instructs Corso, was supposedly written by the dead author from his copy of   “DelMonico,” a book rumored to be written by Lucifer himself.  Due to this, “The Nine Gates” is alleged to be able to summon the devil in person.  Because of this, Balkan insists that Corso must find the other two remaining copies in Portugal and France, make sure that his copy is in fact the real one, and if not, acquire the one that is authentic by “whatever means necessary.”

The Ninth Gate stars Johnny Depp of recent Sleepy Hollow fame as Corso, and Frank Langella (Dave) as Balkan.  Depp fits into this strange role perfectly, playing Corso totally straight throughout the film, giving the character that added touch of realism and aloofness that fits the film’s atmosphere so well.  Langella similarly plays the role well and, as most of his dialogue is over the phone, his unique voice adds a feeling that Balkan is always “omnipresent,” eerily just close enough to make sure Corso doesn’t screw up.

The film is directed by Roman Polanski of Frantic and Rosemary’s Baby. The Ninth Gate came out last Christmas Eve and while not insanely popular at the first, it was to become somewhat of a “sleeper,” picking up acclaim by those that liked a more thinking based “good vs. evil” thriller similar to more slower paced paranormal thrillers like Exorcist, not something that was just special effects.  If you have an imagination and enjoy using your brain when you watch movies, than you will most likely enjoy the film.

Video ****

Artisan, which I at first came to love with my special editions of The Stand and Stargate, is again right on.  The disc is presented in 16 x 9 Anamorphic widescreen that really shined on my TV.  The colors are rich and deep and I was especially impressed with how lush scenes with red hue looked.  Since most of the film’s colors are red and black I was especially curious as to how the black would look. Needless to say I was impressed as the blacks came out deep and clear with no visual problems that I could see.  Even Depp’s normally pallid color shows up looking extra pale and depressing. 

Audio ****

While the 5.1 Dolby Digital track offered didn’t challenge my Denon AVR- 3300 as much as the DTS version of Saving Private Ryan, I was still impressed.  The sound right from the beginning is generally more in the front channels, leaving the score to be funneled around the back speakers, although there were a few spots, such as when the scaffolding dropped near Depp that used the back speakers quite effectively.  Also enjoyable were the sounds the books made when they were opened or looked through.  The sound, although not extremely aggressive, gets the job done well.

Features ****

The disc’s first feature was a Commentary with Director Roman Polanski, which I found to be somewhat informative, although I would have preferred if it had gone throughout the whole DVD track, instead of just coming and going at certain parts.  Also, Polanski tended to get distracted occasionally, stating meaningless things over and over such as that he “often doesn’t look at his movies again.”  Otherwise the commentary was fine.  Another thing that is included is an isolated music track, which was a nice goodie to have, even though I didn’t necessarily love the score.

The film also included TV Spots and the Theatrical trailer, along with Production Notes, which I found unnecessary myself for this film, but hey, for those who do like Production notes, they’re there. 

Also rounding out the film was a brief featurette on the production of the film, some measly “Film Bios,” Storyboard selection which I found to be quite a cool add on, and finally for those of you that didn’t think that was enough, “Satanic drawings.” Yikes!

Summary:

I thought that this disc was an incredible value.  The picture quality was good, the audio mix, although subtle, was very crisp.  Finally and most importantly, the story was well told and very engrossing.  Besides the aforementioned reasons the disc also offers many supplements as well for the low price of only $19.99.  Artisan seems to be following in the footsteps of Warner in offering high quality discs at relatively cheap prices.  Definitely recommended for your collection.