Roman Polanski, Director
Artisan Home Entertainment; 2.35:1 Anamorphic; English Dolby Digital
A film by Roman Polanski always piques my interest, but The Ninth Gate didn’t seem to get many other people excited. I’ve been a fan right back to The Fearless Vampire Killers. Of course, Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown made his reputation.
The Ninth Gate is about a chain-smoking, unscrupulous rare book dealer, played by Johnny Depp, who is assigned by a wealthy collector to find and examine the three remaining copies of a book is reputed to summon the Devil if the right combination of its engravings can be gathered. Depp, as Dean Corso, finds that each edition he examines varies from the others in subtle details of the engravings. Depp proves to be a mesmerizing screen presence in this increasingly mysterious screenplay; he has a lot more to work with here than he did in, say, Edward Scissorhands, and his character here is completely unlike the nomadic Irishman he played in Chocolat.
Frank Langella plays the obsessed collector, and unknown Emmanuelle Seigner a student with something of the Devil in her eyes. She joins Corso’s quest, but he’s never sure just who she’s really working for until the film’s end.
I won’t give away more of the plot, except to note that the search takes them from New York to Portugal and France, while sinister incidents thicken the suspense along the way. The movie is beautifully shot, with an appropriately dark overall look, but with great greyscale gradation and deep colours. I first saw the film on TV in high definition, and then bought the DVD, and was surprised at how much resolution was retained in the transfer. In other cases, for example, Gladiator, the DVD looked crappy in direct comparison to the HD satellite broadcast.
As with all Polanski films, the sound is excellent, engrossing, but part and parcel of the story without intruding. Special effects, too, are in service of the plot, but effectively so. It’s a film that, like Chinatown must be viewed at least twice to get it all, first for the story at its own pace, second, to understand it all, and a third time just to appreciate the craft. It is then that one sees the hand of a great director. And, like Robert Altman, Polanski is a great actor’s director, getting performances from every cast member that are truly memorable, and yet ensemble perfect and natural.
Technically, the DVD is superb, especially when seen through a high quality progressive video system. The interior shots, most of luxurious private libraries, have a richness of detail and colour that few DVDs can match. Outdoor shots have a dark but clear intensity, with muted light and shadow, but, as I said, very good gradations of greys and colours. The Ninth Gate has a look that perfectly underscores its malevolent quest. As the DVD box says, “The only thing more terrifying than searching for the Devil…is finding him.”
Extras are few, a short featurette which could be called a longish trailer, a TV ad, and the ability to listen to just the score while viewing the film.