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The Ninth Gate, directed by Roman Polanski, is a supernatural thriller in which an unscrupulous rare-book dealer (Johnny Depp) is hired by a mysterious, wealthy book collector who is obsessed with the authenticity of his copy of the demonic text, The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows. From that starting point, the story gets involved in mysterious events, strange and deadly “coincidences,” conspiracies, double-crossing, and some very shadowy characters.

Ninth Gate, The
The film is based on the novel El club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. The adaptation is excellent: the script and story have the substance and intelligence that comes from the pen of a skilled author rather than a committee of Hollywood scriptwriters trying to guess what hot-buttons to press for the audience. At 133 minutes, The Ninth Gate is a substantial movie, but the pacing is just right: it never drags, but it also doesn’t ever feel rushed or crammed with too much material, as often happens with a novel adapted to the screen.

Johnny Depp is top-notch as the book dealer Corso, bringing life and interest to a character who not entirely sympathetic. Depp does a great job of slowly revealing more and more of Corso’s character: beneath the facade of being in it for the money, what eventually drives Corso to the end of the trail of the search for the book is wanting to know the whole story. At a certain point, the outside compulsion to continue becomes an interior compulsion; he’s unwilling to step aside despite the dangers of proceeding with his assignment.  

The story is definitely engaging, with mysterious connections between characters and twists in the story that are surprising but never confusing. There are some elements, particularly near the end, that require some interpretation on the part of the viewer, but here Polanski is showing his confidence in the intelligence of the viewer by not laying things out piece by piece, but rather sketching in the outlines and letting the viewer fill in the rest.

Ninth Gate, The
It’s refreshing to see a movie that focuses on suspense and mystery for its thrills, rather than physical action and scares. This is a fairly “cerebral” movie; the characters are all playing mind games, or having mind games played on them; bluffing and calling bluffs; driven by curiosity. Polanski shows that you don’t action or physical danger to show that the stakes are high...

Artisan’s anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer of The Ninth Gate is good, but not outstanding. There is a moderate amount of noise in the image throughout the film, making the image less sharp than it could have been. Color and contrast appear to be satisfactory throughout, including in the frequent dark scenes in the film.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is satisfactory. There’s not a whole lot of use of surround in this film, but the dialogue and other sound is clear. An isolated music score is included in the special features as well.

Ninth Gate, The
There are a number of special features on this disc. There’s a featurette, but it’s disappointing, at a meager two minutes long. It would definitely have been nice if Artisan had taken more time with the featurette, instead of including quite so many other, smaller extras. For instance, there’s a gallery of satanic drawings taken from the film, which is only mildly interesting.  Other special features include production notes, storyboard selections, trailers and TV spots, and cast and crew information. These extras are probably most interesting for a devoted film buff who will appreciate the detail of the drawings and production notes. There’s also an isolated music score and a commentary track with director Roman Polanski. While The Ninth Gate’s special features are a mild example of quantity taking precedence over quality (it really would have been nice to have seen a real making-of featurette), the DVD’s extras do provide interesting material on the film.

Overall, this is a movie that stayed in my mind after viewing it. It’s artistically well done, intelligent, well-acted, and original. It’s not a film for those who want thrill-a-minute action, but its gradually unfolding story of demonic conspiracy rewards the attentive viewer.