170 of 190 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2000
Empty your mind of all preconceived ideas about this film before viewing, and it will be a very worthwhile experience. It is not a horror film. It is definitely an occult film that takes a fresh look at the old theme of His Unholiness making an appearance on earth. The Ninth Gate has a superior cast who perform their parts well under the direction of a director with a worldwide reputation for genius, especially when it comes to depicting the darker matters of the mind. The film is what you would expect from such a combination of human talent. The strictly human characters display themselves in such a way that it becomes possible to read their minds and feel their motives. In so doing, the necessity of the one supernatural character becomes abundantly clear.
Johnny Depp plays Curso, a dealer in and locator of rare books who, as Balkan (Langella's character) points out, is worthy of trust because his loyalty can be bought. Balkan pays the right price to have Depp travel from New York to Lisbon and Paris in search of the two other copies of a rare book Balkan has recently acquired--one that was supposedly co-authored by the Devil and one of his most loyal disciples, the latter of whom was burned at the stake in the 1600's for his own loyalty. Balkan insists that he thinks only one copy of the book is genuine, and he wants to make sure his copy is the one.
It is obvious that Depp has no idea what he is getting himself into, but for all his cynical disregard of humanity, he becomes the "innocent" in this story, because he is the one person who becomes aware and admits early on that he has no idea what he has gotten into. Balkan says he obtained his copy of the book in a true sale from the owner just before the owner committed suicide. However, the former owner's widow insists that the book is hers and becomes the first person trying to kill Curso in an effort to get it back--after the best of feminine wiles don't get the job done. At this point Curso's "guardian angel", whom he calls Green Eyes, enters the picture in the guise of a wandering college student whose appearances at first inspire distrust and apprehension until she begins the rather pleasant habit of repeatedly saving Curso's life.
The mysterious "keys" that will open the Ninth Gate and let the Devil break through are contained in the set of nine woodcuts within each book. The woodcuts each contain interesting jumbled adaptations of various images from the Tarot's Major Arcana--combinations that give a clue to anyone familiar with the cards and their meanings that everyone's traditional ideas regarding the occult were either dead wrong all along or they are about to undergo--forgive the expression--one hell of a change. Curso notes that there are significant variations in the woodcuts in each volume of the three existing copies of the book. Apparaently some were drawn by the Devil himself and some by his advocate.
Curso also notes that he is now being hounded not only by the avaricious widow and her hit man, but also by Balkan, who seems to know his every move, not to mention having knowledge about the violent deaths of the owners of the other two manuscripts. Finally it is revealed that Balkan and the widow are involved in a literal battle to the death to become the Master who controls the Ninth Gate and the group of Devil worshippers who are this century's congregation of those who have been waiting for that Master since the book was first printed 350 years earlier.
There is humor throughout this film, providing necessary comic relief at some very tense moments. That humor is nowhere more evident than in the scene in which the widow (who has managed to temporarily regain Balkan's copy of the book) is leading the gathering of pathetic self-styled Satanists in an even more pathetic, sterotypical black mass. The scene at its opening is so mundane, you want to groan. Then as it progresses, you realize that is part of the director's intentional imagery to show how stupid the theories about conjuring up and dealing with Old Scratch have always been.
This guy is supposed to be the all powerful Prince of Darkness, right? This is the guy who can take your soul into hell for all eternity if you agree to the arrangement. And yet throughout history it is believed that if you draw a circle around a pentagram on the ground or floor and stand in it, then mutter a few incantations, the Devil will appear with his forked tail between his legs and do whatever you ask. This is the powerful adversary of the Almighty? Polanski has a very refreshing spin on that idea.
In The Ninth Gate we see Satan as a stronger contender--one perfectly capable of appointing his "chosen one" among men. Tired, evidently, of insulting requests to preside as Master of Ceremonies at orgies and to give individual megalomaniacs the power to rule the world, the Devil has decided to run the show himself and to confer the honors of being his Commander in Chief on a person who has proven himself a champion on the battlefield of mundane evil.
As for that "obscure" ending, we see Curso walking alone toward the last eerie combination of Tarot symbols--The Star (hope) imposed over the twin towers of The Moon (a card generally having to do with the deepest and sometimes most sinister elements of the occult). One tower is behind the other, giving the appearance of the two merging into one Tower (symbol of total destruction). Evidently the party games are over.
A richly textured, beautifully filmed and well-acted modern gothic tale. I highly recommend it.
76 of 88 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2003
The Ninth Gate is a great film and one of Roman Polanski's most underrated films. Twenty years from now people will give this film the respect it deserves and hail it to be the great film that it is.
Fist of all The Ninth Gate is not an action film. It's a slow-paced psychological thriller very similar in tone and style to Polanski's earlier films Chinatown and Frantic. Johnny Depp and Frank Langella both give great performances. Darius Khondji's photography is amazing and it has an even more amazing score by Kilar. The majority of the film was shot on location and is like a guided tour through Europe.
Ignore the negative reviews and comments from people who've been brainwashed and blinded by the current Hollywood fast-food style of film making with the intention of only appealing to the lowest common denominator. A review doesn't make a good film better or a bad film worse. A superb film. Rating 10 out of 10.
33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2004
I love "The Ninth Gate". I have seen it many times since I first rented it back in the summer of 2000, and after buying it about a year or so later I have always made it a point to view it regularly. Director Roman Polanski has given us another masterpiece of horror with some good touches of comedy, all wrapped up in a cloak of atmosphere so thick that you could cut it with a knife. While I am not a die-hard fan of Polanski in the way I am with directors such as Tim Burton, I have seen and enjoyed very much three of his films: "Rosemary's Baby", "The Fearless Vampire Killers", and "Frantic", and have observed elements found in each of those three movies to be definitely present in this one. "The Ninth Gate" obviously has its maker's fingerprints all over it, which is good news for fans of his work.
"The Ninth Gate" works great as a detective story, which is really what it is more a horror film. Johnny Depp, my favorite actor hands down, takes us on a bizarrely fascinating journey through Portugal and France hoping to track down two of the three remaining copies of a book apparantly written by Satan himself during the Middle Ages. Along the way, we watch him being followed and see some suspicious setbacks occur, along with his dealings with his employer, a millionaire Satanist by the name of Boris Balkan.
The good things I have to say about this film: first, the directing is fantastic, atmospheric and spellbinding. You will be totally immersed in the goings-on of this film, in spite of its numerous quiet and thoughtful moments and overall slow-moving nature. The European location work is gorgeous ... we see some beautiful and sinister cities, castles, and countrysides. The movie looks and feels great. Also, a bizarre and interesting choice was made to cast the same man as four different characters, who(m) we meet two at a time, first and then again later, in the same location. Was this supposed to be symbolic or indicate something implicitly to the audience?
Second, the musical score by a fellow named Wojciech Kilar is beautiful; its haunting, subtle, and quiet. It perfectly accents the scenes it plays behind, in no way upstaging the action or even drawing attention to itself. Also, I loved the soloist (a Korean girl, I understand) who sang during the opening and ending credits. I find it appalling that during the trailers advertising this film, they played some awful new-metal-crud in an effort to get all the MTV kids into the theater. As awful as this was, I am very thankful that none of this music found its way into the movie itself ... it would be entirely inappropriate. Kilar's compositions are spot-on perfect, and nothing else should have been used.
Third, I was really taken by the fascinating artwork done for the engravings. They were almost tarot-cardish, and very bizarre. I particularly liked the one of the guy hanging by his foot from a noose (and the way it figured into a later scene after we see it for the first time) and the image of the maze with the castle turrets. The moment when we see the initials "LCF" in tiny letters hidden on particular ones was absolutely chilling.
Fourthly and finally, in spite of the fact that Johnny Depp is my favorite actor, I must say that it was Frank Langella as Boris Balkan who stole this movie away. Balkan is a fascinating character, from his special library (did anyone notice the passcode he entered to unlock its door?) to his attitude toward phony Satanists (his little "Boo!" moment was classic), all the way to his unfortunate end. His dedication to his beliefs could be both inspiring and frightening (check out what he says to Corso, Depp's character, when he tells him that the book has been stolen from his hotel room), and I enjoyed every moment that had him on the screen. Langella's Balkan definitely comes away as this movie's most memorable character. I am now very interested in seeing the version of "Dracula" he did back in the 1970s.
One final thing: I found interesting the director's choice to present Satanism in a more objective light than would normally done in films such as these. I understand that Polanski really has no religious beliefs, so as far as he's concerned one is as good as another. While I do not agree with this, it certainly makes for an interesting and original approach to the subject matter, and really works for this movie's benefit.
Give "The Ninth Gate" a try today. The DVD has some good extras, including a nice commentary with the director, and the film itself has a very high rewatchablity factor. You'll find yourself wanting to put this one into the player again and again as time goes on, and you'll find something new to enjoy about it every time. Go for it! You'll thank me.
Carry on Carry on,
59 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2003
I watched this not knowing what was in store for me, and at the end of the movie, I was completely in awe of this powerful story. Johnny Depp's acting is good, but his somewhat scrawny body and his aged looks just weren't the reason why this movie kept me in my seat throughout. No doubt the story isn't very realistic - its basically about the forces - mainly the evil forces - in life - greed, lust, power... and Johnny Depp plays an underhanded book dealer who is employed by Balkan (Langella) to go on a trip to Europe to research an ancient Satanic book's authenticity. This entire movie is about Johnny Depp taking one long and life-threatening adventure tackling issues beyond what he normally avoids in real life.
Emmanuelle Seigner (and this is just some gossip for you - she's Polanski's wife in real-life!) plays the mysterious woman who appears to help Depp everytime he's faced with a life-or-death situation, and this casts suspicion on her true identity - is she human or is she not? What is she? These are all the questions that Polanski poses to the viewer as you go through the film watching Depp go through his journey which seems to be like a cat-and-mouse chase between him and the greedy people who are after the book's secrets. Seigner is completely mesmerising in her own right. She is very interesting to watch and so charismatic - and rightly so because Polanski filmed her in such a way that drenched her in an even deeper aura of mystery. Olin is good too, she is very convincing in a somewhat shallow role as an out-and-out money-grubbing chic French tramp who bites (literally).
There are certainly loads of questions left unanswered in the movie, but I think this is the intention of the director who wants you the viewer to make out the story how you want to see it. If you like a movie that features a great cast (albeit not your usual "teen heart-throb" Hollywood stars) shot in an European countryside backdrop, and a theme about the "dark forces" that leaves you thinking a bit - then you're sure to enjoy watching this. This movie has good pace. There's always something happening around the corner for Depp, and then there's always the question of "Who exactly is that *girl*?" I loved this whole movie and would recommend it to the right person.
34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
I saw Roman Polanski's "The Ninth Gate" -- a horror film often poorly compared to his earlier "Rosemary's Baby" -- on a Saturday night when it began at 10 p.m. It is a good flick for late night on a Saturday -- it's about an unscrupulous rare book dealer (Johnny Depp in an effective role) that makes a deal with a similarly unscrupulous collector (Mr. Overactor Frank Langella) to visit Europe and determine if Langella's first edition book is authentic.
Only catch is it's a first edition of a book written in the 1500s that portends a visit by the devil from those who read it. Depp takes the case (and a big check with a promise of more to come) and goes on a European travelall to check out the other two books in existence.
Strange things begin to happen, weird people start showing up (including a protective angel) and mayhem begins to break out. Depp's investigation leads to death, fire and some interesting discoveries about the books. Langella shows up for a final scene of devil worship where his overacting takes on a new dimension.
This is an interesting and fun movie, for the most part. The mystery story is very involving and the European travelogue, through Spain and France, is very interesting. The film has many suspenseful moments and Depp is unusually good in his role.
This is a poor man's "Rosemary's Baby", however, and it lacks both the fit and finish of Polanski's other venture into devil worship. Still, it is a pretty good late night horror effort, one you can return to a few times to figure out whether that protective angel is actually a member of the devil's brigade or not.
23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2010
Movies made for public consumption must be for entertainment, not for analysis for an award. The Ninth Gate is way more enjoyable than iconic movies like Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby. There is unjustified over-analysis of this movie, which stifles enjoyment.
The cinematography was excellent, justifying the wide-screen. The DTS soundtrack was impressive. Colour saturation was intense, putting the Blu-ray to good effect. Comments on the Blu-ray version having washed out colours are groundless. When light streams in behind the actors through library and café windows, there is going to be less colour in areas lit by shafts of light: photography 101. There are a lot of scenes taking place in libraries, and there is a lot of backlighting in the movie. There is no colour washout at all: the skin tones are outstanding, as confirmed by the bare bodies of Lena Olin and Emmanuelle Seigner.
Lack of features? Roman Polanski's detailed and non-stop commentary was the best I have heard in a very long time - it is virtually an instructional lecture on movie making. This commentary, pleasantly, is never once self-serving or self-congratulatory. It incorporates into the narrative all the relevant material normally found in "Special Features". Besides one gets to watch this marvellous movie one more time, the original feature not having boring moments helps making this exhaustive commentary readily consumable. The drawings in "Special Features" have characters bearing an uncanny resemblance to various actors.
Unresolved ending? Roman Polanski wisely leaves the final encounter between Johnny Depp and the Prince of Darkness to the viewer's imagination. To be fair, no movie interpretation can possibly come out right, nor can any good come out of it.
This Blu-ray does not work on the old Sony BDP-300, but is playable with models Sony BDP-350 and later 2.0 BDPs.
Many movies give the feeling "I could have written this script myself" or "another variation of a worn theme". Not this one. It is compelling and refreshing drama. Since this story was put to film in 1999, there has rarely been another quite as original.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2003
Let's be clear about "The Ninth Gate": the movie is easily one of Roman Polanski's best, and certainly one of the most deliciously creepy, eerie, unsettling and deeply atmospheric films about diabolism and deviltry ever made.
With a script drawn from Spanish author Arturo Perez Reverte's quirky "Le Club Dumas", "The Ninth Gate" is the Faustian tale of an unscrupulous New York dealer in rare books (played with tactful understatement and curiosity by Johnny Depp) commissioned by secretive tycoon and rare book collector Boris Balkan (played to the hilt by Frank Langella, who nearly steals the show)to authenticate his copy of the Nine Gates to the Kingdom of Shadows (De Umbrarum Regni Novem Portis).
That innocent-sounding assignment isn't nearly as easy as it sounds. For one thing, there are three copies of the demonic tome, printed by a 17th century Venetian bookbinder (later burned at the stake for his troubles) and reputedly capable of summoning Satan; Balkan wants Corso to examine the two other volumes (one in Spain, the other in Paris) and determine which is the forgery.
Another complication lies with Balkan's book: its previous owner hanged himself shortly after selling his volume to Balkan, and his wealthy widow (played by a supple and cat-like Lena Olin) wants it back. And if that weren't enough, as Corso is drawn deeper into the mystery, those around him begin to die horribly and mysteriously.
"The Ninth Gate" is a rich, heady, delicious mystery, and its palpable sense of growing menace is given nice counterpoint by Director of Photography Darius Khondji's ("Se7en")lush cinematography, which tracks Corso on his quest through a host of forbidding and enchanting locales: from a decaying Spanish manse, to a Parisian occult library, to a Black Mass in a French castle, to a shadowy and seemingly demon-haunted Manhattan (recreated by the exiled Polanski on a backlot), with the action culminating in a ruined French fortress.
The look of the film constitutes a character in itself; the Black Mass in Liana Telfer's restored family chateau recalls the orgy sequence in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (indeed, the films echo each other in their suggestion of malefic, monstrous forces gliding beneath their gilded and luxurious surfaces). This is a film that dwells on its haunted spaces, a film full of moonlit parapets and occult libraries full of leather-bound volumes. Even the woodcut details of the Nine Gates (drawn from Reverte's book) draw the viewer into a world of recondite and forbidden knowledge. Watching the movie is like being granted admittance into a secret society.
The creepiness is nicely accentuated by Wojciech Kilar's haunting score, which is by turns engaging and urging Corso on (the "Bolero" like theme undergirding Coros's flight to Madrid) and warding him off.
It has been said that the best terror is painted on a palette of silence: "The Ninth Gate" is a quiet film, a masterwork of atmosphere whose chief terrors are never directly seen. Indeed, Polanski took Reverte's eccentric and erudite "Club Dumas" and plumbed and distilled its essence into a creepy, understatedly scary little film, a minutely detailed little cinematic treasure box whose ultimate horror takes some time to truly sink in.
All of the performances are well done, even the small ones. Veteran actor Jack Taylor is splendid as the last scion of a dying aristocratic Spanish family, Emmanuelle Seigneur is alternately hideous and gorgeous as the mysterious Girl that hounds Corso's footsteps (watch her face closely in the movie's final minutes), and Barbara Jefford provides an elegant turn as occult maven and scholar Baroness Kessler.
There are a few mis-steps, but nothing fatal: the fight between Olin's thug and the Girl by the Seine is clumsily mounted, and the henchman himself, with his platinum blonde hair and effete mannerisms, more closely resembles an extra from a Madonna video than a Satanic assassin, but that's quibbling in a movie this rich and engaging.
With that out of the way: Talk about a mismatch between Marketing and Movie! I think most of the problems viewers had with "The Ninth Gate" stems from the way the film was advertised; the movie came out around the time of Arnold Schwarzenegger's "End of Days", and the marketing campaigns were similar: fire and brimstone quick cuts and heavy metal musical riffs, leading many to the conclusion that both films would offer CGI-demon slaying.
"The Ninth Gate" is not an action movie, nor is it straight horror. If that's what you want to see, then you really shouldn't waste your time. If, on the other hand, you want a deliciously atmospheric movie about a kind of diabolic treasure hunt (with the Devil Himself as the prize), then "The Ninth Gate" is eerily pungent, devilish fun. Old Scratch himself would be pleased.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
This is not a scary movie, unless everyday evil being easy to miss is scary to you.
What this movie does have is depth. Polanski moved it along at a great pace, unfolding the tale bit by bit, but the thing is, there is much more than one story here. I suspect a lot of people will GET the surface but miss what lies at the depth.
There's a lot of thought in this story, and it draws from a rich occult background. If you've a background in Crowley, Hermeticism, OTO or such, you will get much more out of this movie than the person that is not familiar with these things. Careful detail was taken to weave hermetic occultism into the storyline, and if you are familiar with the AE WAITE tarot deck, you will recognize a lot of the symbols on the 'plates' of the book.
If you are looking for monsters, spells, things that go BOO and make you jump, blood, gore...this movie isn't for you. If you are very well read, and like intellectual horror, you just might find you want to own this one.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2006
- CAUTION: SPOILERS BELOW -
I first saw Ninth Gate at the theater in 1999 or 2000 and I'm convinced that that is the best way to see this movie. Lights low, huge picture in front of you, rich, booming sound. The opening credits are great; Polish musician Wojciech Kilar's opening theme is excellent and sets an appropriate tone of weariness and dread. Some of the pluckier parts of the soundtrack don't seem to mesh too well, or seem dated -- but the opening theme is masterfully done.
The movie concerns a book dealer's attempts to piece together the three known copies of a medieval tome that was supposedly co-written by Lucifer in 1666. Yes, co-authored by Lucifer himself. Apparently Lucifer likes to sign his name "LCF," the movie shows, and he does engravings, too. Piecing together all Lucifer's drawings in the 3 extant copies of the 'The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows,' a book that reminds of the Necronomicon, enables one to summon the dark lord. Or so the theory goes.
Depp does an adequate, low-key job as the unscrupulous book collector in search of the volumes on behalf of a wealthy New York client (Frank Langella). As others have mentioned, you do get the feeling that some sort of unspeakable evil is always JUST around the corner. But after awhile it begins to feel like a big put-on. Is anything going to ever happen or not? The pacing of the plot is deliberate, even langorous, and there is a good amount of suspense and unease, ladled on thick and grey in various European settings. The characters are interesting and even eerie (the two book makers in Portugal, for example).
There are some moments, however, where the film seems to devolve into self-parody. For example, when you think of it, Satan himself, sitting around, doing drawings, and planting them in 3 different books -- well, that's kind of absurd, no? Nonetheless, if you don't think about such minutaie too much, you can enjoy the atmosphere and moodiness the movie conjures. One failing of the movie was when Depp's character, Corso, encounters the pack of Satanists at a secluded European mansion. This scene, which should have been climactic, seems to want to play like EYES WIDE SHUT, and it does sort of play that way -- but it's EYES WIDE SHUT as directed for the old 80s TV show Amazing Stories. Kind of hokey. In fact, some moments of this scene are laughably bad: One of the female Satanists, for some reason, hastily strips off her black silk robe and scuttles away naked, as if she'd just seen Godzilla approaching Mt. Fuji. Granted, fleeing is one thing -- but stripping off your clothes as you do so? Why was this put here? What the heck, Roman Polanski? Another Satanist looks like a Renassance Fair enthusiast, in long hair and a pony tail. And when Frank Langella strides into the scene, dressed like lawyer Melvin Belli in the Rolling Stones' GIMME SHELTER, proclaiming, "Mumbo jumbo! Mumbo jumbo! Mumbo jumbo!" it's hard not to laugh.
The ending also felt antclimactic. I remember in the theater that folks sat in hushed silence as the credits came up, and there was a feeling of disbelief that that confused, ambiguous little bit at the end really was the ending. (You'll know what I mean when you see it.)
If someone else other than Roman Polanski had made this movie -- a new director, perhaps -- you'd think, "Hmm, this was uneven but it had its moments. I can't wait to see what this director does in the next few years." But since it *is* Polanski and you expect a degree of excellence from him, it's a let down -- of sorts. ROSEMARY'S BABY and REPULSION are far superior to this. But if you have seen THE TENANT, Polanski's last of his unofficial trilogy of which REPULSION & ROSEMARY'S were the first two parts, well, it's about on level with that. THE TENANT was also a good, suspenseful, disturbing movie that nonetheless delivered a confusing, unsatisfying ending and had uneven, silly moments.
I'm torn between recommending this or not. I give it 3 stars. I wish I could say 3 and a half. It's not bad. But it just isn't as great as we know Polanski is capable of. Go into it with low expectations and you may be surprised.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2007
Just watched this for the 2nd time on IFC. I won't repeat what others already have said. The actors (esp. Depp) were routinely excellent. The road trip scenery throughout Europa was especially welcome and set the tone so marvellously. Some of the editing seemed rather abrupt although. In certain scenes where the veil was puilling back ever so slightly - bam - scene changed. My other issue was certain parts of the soundtrack seemed out of place. While the mood was dark and slow throughout, as was the music, abruptly at times (the chase along the Seine) segued into action film stereotypical.
I'm afraid I still have questions about the female lead's identity, but the film works nicely both ways. The ending thus is totally up to the interpretation of the viewer. Don't expect special effects and demons, do expect a wonderfully engrossing film based on the performances and pacing of the film. The juxtapositions presented to the viewer are mind candy. Enjoy and turn the lights down low...