The Ninth Gate (1999)

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Released 9-May-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Booklet
Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Audio Commentary-Roman Polanski (Director)
Isolated Musical Score
Theatrical Trailer
Featurette
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Production Notes
Gallery-Satanic Drawings
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 127:34 (Case: 132)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (60:33) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Roman Polanski
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Johnny Depp
Lena Olin
Frank Langella
James Russo
Jack Taylor
Emmanuelle Seigner
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $36.95 Music Woiciech Kilar


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Isolated Music Score Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    The release of The Ninth Gate marks director Roman Polanski's  return to film production after an absence of 5 years. In that time, he's had a couple of kids to Mrs Roman Polanski (Emmanuelle Seigneur) who also stars in the movie. Based on the book El Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Revertes, The Ninth Gate is one of the smattering of apocalyptic offerings that was produced at the end of the Millennium. Johnny Depp stars as the shabby book-detective Dean Corso,  hired by American tycoon Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), to authenticate his antiquarian copy of the Satanic text Novem Portis. One of only three known copies produced in the 17th Century, it would seem that there is something wrong with the Satanic empowering  instructions contained within Balkan's version as he still hasn't achieved his ambition of realising his Satanic Master's plan of ultimate power and world domination!

    The film traces Corso's travels finding the other two copies located in France and Spain and comparing them with Balkan's copy. Along the way, he brushes with  members of the French, Spanish and German aristocracy played convincingly by Lena Olin, Jack Taylor and Barbara Jefford, most of whom meet their demise in unfortunate circumstances. He is aided along the way by the mysterious and enigmatic 'Girl' played convincingly by Emmanuelle Seigneur who leaves us guessing until the fiery conclusion as to her true role in the tale.

    What distinguishes The Ninth Gate from ten-a-penny Satanic tales is the combination of a strong acting cast, an ever-changing sequence of  locations in France, Spain and Portugal and Polanski's extraordinary eye for detail and perfection. From the opening titles filmed arising from a sequence of nine gates to the fiery finale, the viewer is enveloped in the rich atmosphere of classic Polanski and presented with an encyclopaedic presentation of filming techniques, both old and new, assembled by a master of his craft. A self-confessed fan of DVD, Polanski throws down the gauntlet to "nit-pickers", armed with a remote, to find fault with his continuity and technique. Similarities between the rich leather-bound books and furnishings of the sets of The Ninth Gate and The Godfather Trilogy are accounted for by the Production Designer's (Dean Tavoularis) long association with Francis Ford Coppola.

    Although Polanski freely admits he is a non-believer in such matters and as such presents the tale with a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek and irony, the extraordinary detail of the sets and props is enough to provide the viewer with a nagging doubt that, maybe, there is no smoke without fire!

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer quality of this movie is quite good and would have been excellent were it not marred by video artefacts.

    The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is clear and sharp and there is is very little in the way of low level noise. This is important as there is much subtle detail available such as the intricacies of the text wood block engravings and frequent use of glass reflection (eg Corso's glasses) to convey information. There is an occasional jerkiness in panning evident in this PAL version that was notably absent from the R1 NTSC version.

    The colours were rich and mostly subdued as would be expected from the interior sets of the Continental book-collecting aristocracy. CGI and bluescreen effects are bright and the various fire effects are well presented by the Dubois effects unit with a notable absence of flare and oversaturation.

    The trade-off for the sharpness of the transfer is the aliasing throughout the film eg Taxi Cab at 21:30, which at times proved distracting and detracted from the atmosphere of the film. Severe moire artefacts were also evident at times on Venetian blinds eg 15:04 and 75:30. There were small film artefacts, mostly white marks, throughout the feature but these were not distracting.

    Subtitles were available in English only and were an accurate portrayal of the soundtrack.

    This disc is an RSDL disc, with the layer change placed between scene changes at 60:33. It is well placed and barely discernible.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    This is a reasonable audio transfer, although as the audio track is principally dialogue-based, it doesn't give your surround system much of a work-out.

    There are three audio tracks available. The default track is in English Dolby Digital 5.1. Two other tracks are provided in Dolby Digital 2.0, track two being an isolated music score and track three being a director's commentary from Roman Polanski.

    The dialogue was a little muffled and hard to hear at times which was surprising considering the quality of the actors and probably represents a mild deficiency in recording technique. Listeners of non-European origin might also find some of the Spanish, French and American drawl a little hard to decipher which is a pity as the dialogue is crucial to understanding the evolving plot.

    Audio sync was not a problem at all with this transfer, and was completely spot on.

    The original musical score is superb and was written by Polish compatriot Wojciech Kilar and recorded in Prague. The music augments the supernatural feel to the film much as in Kilar's score to Bram Stoker's Dracula and nicely complements the action sequences. The beautiful recording of Korean soprano Kimi Jo during the end-credits nicely augments the audience uncertainty about Corso's ultimate fate!

    The surround channels were used with good, subtle effect to augment the enveloping atmosphere of the film without any particularly notable distraction.

    The subwoofer was infrequently used during the few action sequences and to augment the occasional roll of thunder.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

   A good selection of extras are presented, with the Director's commentary and the Gallery of drawings from the books being particularly notable.

Menu

    The menu is animated and features clips from the movie when menu selections are made. It is presented in 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced.

Director's Commentary

    This is a valuable insight into the technical side of film-making, provided a little reluctantly by Polanski who has to take cigar and chocolate breaks during the feature. It is evident that he doesn't much enjoy reviewing his past works but he is keen to support this particular DVD feature. Interesting background information is also provided on the locations and some problems in casting that were solved by press-ganging some crew members into action.

Featurette

    This is a 2 minute featurette which is little more than a trailer with a few actors and director quotes thrown in to justify the title of featurette. Mostly advertising and mutual back-slapping without conveying much of interest.

Theatrical Trailer

    1:37 trailer presented in 1.33:1 - a good teaser and highlighter for the film.

Gallery of Satanic drawings

    The images from the Liber Novem Portis drawn especially for the film comparing the differing versions found by Corso between the three different texts. Of relevance for students of Symbol and Tarot cards and for those we want to read more into the film than is probably justified.

Production Notes

    Nine pages of lightweight information about the film and a few salient quotes on evil and Satan.

Cast & Crew Information

    Comprehensive information and filmography for 15 members of cast and crew.

Booklet

   This is a glossy 4 page booklet with a nice picture of Johnny and the gates, a chapter listing and a couple of pages of Polanski quotes.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on:

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     Both versions offer 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced video transfers. It was notable that the R4 PAL version was noticeably sharper but that it suffered quite badly from aliasing and moire artefacts and was less smooth  than the R1 NTSC version. Were it not for the video deficiencies, the R4 version would be clearly better but I found the R1 version easier to view. On my R1 copy, however, I was unable to access half of the special features including the relevant drawing gallery so overall I'd recommend the R4 version.

Summary

    The Ninth Gate is an intriguing movie leaving the viewer constantly uncertain as to what is real and what is fictional - is Polanski entertaining or informing us? The sound effects were adequate and the film beautifully scored. Annoying film-to-video transfer artefacts marred what is otherwise a first-class DVD presentation.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Lancaster (read my bio)
Friday, December 28, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-900E, using RGB output
DisplayPioneer SD-T50W1 (127cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersB&W 602 front/rear. B&W LRC6 Centre / Solid (AKA B&W) 500 SW

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