Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Ninth Gate (1999)

Sometimes as a film music fan you do stupid things. You see a movie that everyone tells you is bad. You see this movie, because you love the film score and can’t imagine the movie being “that bad”. Sometimes you luck out and the movie is pretty good, and it is wonderful to see how the composer made the film better because of the score (I’m looking at you Jerry Goldsmith). But sometimes you strike out. The movie really is “that bad” and you’re left wondering why you just wasted more than two hours of your life when you could have just listened to the film score again. Guess which type of bad movie this is.

Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is an obtainer of rare books. He’s also a bit of a bastard about the whole thing. He will lie, cheat and steal to get these books and sell them without a second thought. He’s very good at his job and that is why Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) hires him to find the extremely rare book The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows. Supposedly if all the known texts are combined, a complete version of the book can be deciphered. Then you can open the gates to hell and bring forth the devil. Sounds like fun!

Well Corso doesn’t care about all that supernatural hocus-pocus! He just wants the books and a big payday. Along the way he must match wits and nerves with Liana Telfer (Lena Olin) a sexy widow who wants the books for herself. There is also a mysterious girl (Emmanuelle Seigner) that helps Corso, and appears to have some kind of supernatural abilities. The deeper Corso gets, the more he begins to realize that there might be something to this demonic book. But will he have the guts to open The Ninth Gate?

Good Points:
  • Wonderful score by Wojciech Kilar
  • Has a fun story at its core
  • Some of the scenery chewing by Olin and Langella is a blast to watch

Bad Points:
  • Not scary, or suspenseful or even that interesting
  • Feels like it is meandering way too often
  • Corso is too bland to be a good antihero

Much like John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns, this film seems to be inspired by the disturbing short story, The King in Yellow. But just like Carpenter, Polanski just misses the boat. The movie is not bad enough to be fun, and not good enough to be engaging. It has a few moments where it almost starts coming together, but Depps, bland portrayal, or even Kilar’s overly dramatic score just topples the whole thing. It’s a shame because a good movie is buried in there somewhere, but this is one you can skip (and just listen to the film score instead).

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 4
Acting: 3
Script: 2
Music: 5
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 2
Total:  2

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


  1. I give Johnny Depp credit for being willing to try just about anything. Necessarily, some of them miss. I never saw this one, largely because the trailers just didn't appeal. Thanks for the reinforcement.

    1. Yeah, Depp actually seems a bit too restrained in this one. The film has some wild flourishes and a bit more quirk might have helped. I don't know... There are also a few moments of dark humor, but they seem at odds with a deadly serious tone. The movie just seems like a mess in places. Hopefully we'll get a good adaptation of "The King in Yellow", but this certainly wasn't it.

  2. I actually really like the movie for a lot of the reasons you didn't. And it actually has nothing to do with THE KING IN YELLOW, but is in fact a loose adaptation of Arturo Pérez-Reverte's 1993 novel The Club Dumas. I love the atmosphere of this film (shot by ace cinematographer Darius Khondji no less) and the whole mood of it all. There is a fantastic off-kilter vibe to the film as it shifts from serious to humorous and back again, which works in keeping you off-balance as I'm sure as was Polanski's intention. For me, the gradual pacing drew me into the engaging world of this film.

    I like that Corso really does not care about others and yet, despite all of his reprehensible qualities, Depp’s natural charisma and charm make him kind of an endearing character that you care more about as he delves deeper into dangerous waters.

    Anyways, I liked it.

    1. I got the feeling that Polanski was going for a more quirky feel with the whole thing. It just didn't click with me. It's a shame too, because I like the core of the story. I think there was a lot of potential there. Now, I wonder if "Club Dumas" was inspired by "The King in Yellow"? ;)

      But I do agree with you about the cinematography. The movie had a wonderful warm look to it. Really liked that part of it. And all the location shooting gave the whole thing a unique flavor - in a good way this time.

  3. As far as Depp movies go, I enjoyed this one too on some level. As you mentioned the location for it was a bit of a draw, and Depp seemed pretty good in his role. I thought of it more as a mystery story than horror, and to tell you the truth I forget how it ends. It's not one of those movies I care to own, but something about the atmosphere of the movie drew me in.

    1. Yeah, you probably don't remember the ending because it was kinda rushed and weak (in my opinion). It felt like it was kinda tacked on, or that something was missing.