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THE NINTH GATE ($25) is a slow, deliberate and somewhat ambiguous occult thriller from director Roman Polanski. Unlike most modern horror movies, THE NINTH GATE is stylish, reasonably intelligent and it keeps one guessing about the nature of the evil depicted in the film- is it supernatural, or the work of human hands. Johnny Depp stars as Dean Corso, a less than scrupulous antique book dealer, who is hired by wealthy publisher Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to verify the authenticity of an ancient tome supposedly co-authored by the devil himself.

Although only one copy of ĎThe Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadowsí survived a purging by fire, Corsoís job entails checking Balkanís copy of the book, against two others that are held by private collectors. Inside the book is a series of engravings, which are key to a puzzle that supposedly allows one to summon the Prince of Darkness. Of course, Balkanís failed attempt to summon Old Scratch makes him question the authenticity of the copy in his possession, which is why he hires Corso to check the other two volumes. Immediately after taking possession of Balkanís infernal book, Corso gets a taste of hell on earth, as he finds himself involved in a dark conspiracy that includes a rather bloody body count.

As always, Johnny Depp delivers a very effective performance and is well served by his ability to totally immerse himself in his role. Corso isnít a particularly likable protagonist, yet Depp imbues him with just enough humanity for the audience to identify with his plight. Frank Langella is quite good as the surprisingly bookish, but ultimately evil Boris Balkan. Although this is a small part, Langella is able to make a lasting impression. Emmanuelle Seigner is hypnotically beautiful and is ideally cast as Corsoís mysterious protector, who always manages to show up when he needs her. The cast of THE NINTH GATE also features Lena Olin, Barbara Jefford, Jack Taylor, Josť Lůpez Rodero and James Russo. Director Polanski has lost none of his power to craft haunting visuals, some of which manage to hide the flaws in the filmís story line. Of course, Polanskiís visuals are greatly aided by Darius Khondjiís exquisite cinematography and Dean Tavoularisí rich, ornate production design.

THE NINTH GATE is well served by Artisan Home Entertainmentís excellent DVD release of the film. The DVD features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays and THE NINTH GATE has been framed very close to its theatrical proportions of 2.35:1. Image quality is truly first rate, making THE NINTH GATE an intriguing option as a demo disc for anyone looking to audition a new home theater display. The picture is very crisp, finely detailed and free from any discernable instances of film grain. Additionally, the film element used for the transfer is pristine, lacking any sort of perceivable blemishes. Flesh tones are completely natural, while the rest of the colors are strongly saturated, especially the warmer tones. There are fiery oranges, yellows and reds that perfectly rendered, without a hint of chromatic distortion or bleeding. Blacks are flawless and velvety, plus the picture possesses striking depth and excellent shadow detail. THE NINTH GATE takes advantage of dual layer authoring to keep digital compression artifacts from marring this gorgeous presentation. Kudos to Artisan- this marvelous transfer really makes Darius Khondjiís cinematography shine.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack has an atmospheric mix that works well within the framework of the material. Since THE NINTH GATE is pretty much a dialogue driven film, there are no sonic pyrotechnics to draw oneís attention away from the story. The soundtrack has a very open and effortless quality that is enhanced by the clean channel separation present in the forward and rear soundstages. Sound effects are very subtle, seeming so natural that they can go unnoticed. Dialogue is fully intelligible and the actorís voices resonate with a natural timbre. Wojciech Kilarís haunting musical score may be the strongest element in the mix, other than the filmís dialogue. The music is beautifully recorded and integrated into the mix, taking full advantage of the Dolby Digital encoding. There are few opportunities for the bass channel to stand out, however the lower frequencies are strong enough to give the track a solid foundation and enhance the filmís music.

Full motion video, animation and sound have been employed to enhance the DVDís interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, plus a nice complement of supplements. Director Roman Polanski provides a running commentary that is interesting and at times, very detailed on the technical aspects of the filmmaking process. THE NINTH GATE also includes an isolated score, for those who wish to hear the music, sans dialogue and other distractions. There is a very brief featurette presented on the DVD, as well as three theatrical trailers, and (hidden) TV spots. A small group of storyboards are offered on the DVD, with the ability to jump to the scene within the film for comparison. Also included on the DVD is a Gallery of Satanic Drawings, these of course are the engravings from the book in the film. Production notes and cast biographies/filmographies fill out the supplements.




DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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