Lionsgate take Polanski's film and transfer a clean print of its 2.35:1 image to Blu-ray via MPEG-4, but the resulting hi-def image is, ironically, bedevilled by several gremlins.
No-one can argue that this picture is better than its SD equivalent, but the image is instantly compromised by the diffuse lighting and the archly stylistic heightening of contrast that results in a film that looks consistently soft and hazy. Sometimes horribly so. The very first sequence, in which we meet one of the book's owners as he takes a noose-bound drop from a chair, is so sickly rendered with ill-looking reds and such a filtered sheen that it looks as though your screen has been blown way out of its calibrated orbit.
The palette is slightly muted and flattened, though not desaturated. Colours are still there, but they lose vitality due to the softened appearance of the image. The flames of the two infernos that we see are certainly orange, but there isn't the intensity that you might have looked for. Skin-tones have a bland and texture-less quality that looks like evidence of DNR, but the overall hazy effect, once again, plays a part in robbing the movie of life and substance too. Greens are nice and rich when it comes to the verdant countryside of rural France and Spain and it is, indeed, these daylight external sequences that actually do serve to remind you that are watching a hi-def disc. However, there are still moments when colours are off-balance and possessive of a glow that is, well, unpleasant. Have a look at Lena Olin's lips, for instance, when Corso first meets her and, later on, when she pays him an erotic visit. I've now checked this disc on two separate machines and on two separate screens with the horrid floating pink smudge resulting on both occasions. It just does not look right. However, the scintillating emerald of Seigner's eyes is appropriately bright and vivid when called for.
Contrast isn't the greatest around and blacks can sometimes be infiltrated and lightened when they should be at their strongest. Night-time scenes are underwhelming in this respect, although the shadows thrown by gates, walls and buildings can often be quite deep and natural-looking. Depth is nothing to write home about and there is no trace of any effective three-dimensionality. Partially, I would say this the blame of the softened aesthetic, simply because it just denies any sense of true delineation and visual integrity. Detail is definitely an improvement, however. Clothing, landscapes, vehicles and, especially books - their jackets and their text - have much more clarity and the image is certainly richer in finite acuity.
There is some occasional, though only slight edge enhancement and also a couple of instances when I thought I detected some motion drag - both occasions when Corso, in close-up, moves suddenly across the screen. At one point there is also a very noticeable cluster of digital noise in the bottom right hand corner of the image, nestling in a pocket of shadow. Actually, there may well be more instances of this, but this was the only time that I was actually bothered by it.
Overall, this is a better image than the R2 SD disc that I managed to compare it to, but it is plagued by some unappealing elements and means it does not totally resemble what you'd like to think of as high definition.
With one of Lionsgate's now common DTS-HD MA 7.1 tracks, you can't say that The
Ninth Gate has been overlooked in the audio department.
But the film was only ever moderately serviced by surround channels in the first place, so don't go expecting anything too grandiose or elaborate to take place within the soundfield this time around. A terrific wraparound experience is not on offer, I'm afraid. Barring a couple of effects - for a train and for some collapsing scaffolding and a floor crumbling away - the rears only tend to carry the score and some vague ambience. This is certainly a time - a rare one, I should add - when Lionsgate don't really warrant employing their 7.1 configuration. This said, though, I still found the track to be clean and clear, widely spread across the front and generously catered-for with bass.
Dialogue is crisp and well-prioritised, with Depp's conniving little voice and Langella's meaty brogue coming across well. Kilar's grimly mesmerising score makes sure to swell in all the right places with power, depth and richness, and a decent range of dynamics. The delightful vocals of soprano Sumi Jo have a suitably lilting dexterity that the mix is keen to indulge. The final act - a Satanic mass, a blazing fire, screams and Kilar's demoniacally charged music - certainly sounds good, the track suddenly finding some weight and vigour and filling out the environment with some degree of warm immersion. Panning around the set-up is generally clean and natural, though once again, this is not really a track that is intended to dazzle with all-points accuracy.
I doubt that you will have much to complain with this audio presentation, so long as you don't go expecting a full-on 7.1 experience.
The best thing offered up in the way of extras is, undoubtedly, the commentary track from Roman Polanski. Although he doesn't provide anything all that revelatory about the plot or his take on it, there are plenty of production anecdotes and some interesting discussion on his casting choices, what appealed to him about the story and how he elected to steer it. Technical at times, personal at others, this is a track that will definitely appeal to fans of the usually dependable filmmaker.
A contemporary making-of featurette is also included. But considering that it only lasts for two minutes, do not bank on learning anything that the film's trailer doesn't tell you. Utterly pointless promotional pap, I'm afraid.
There are six storyboard selections to have a look at and a gallery of twenty satanic drawings, the etches and engravings depicted in the film's book.
The Ninth Gate also gets a couple of its own trailers and one for the US remake of The Eye.
Not much to be going on with, but a Polanski chat-track is always worth your time and effort.
From a filmmaker like Polanski, a seasoned pro with disturbing psychological horror, The Ninth Gate is a dismal misstep. Even those who assumed that Johnny Depp could provide some quirky charisma and eccentricity will be disappointed by his considerably unappealing performance here. Unforgivably tedious and scuppered by a thoroughly lousy finale, this is Satanica-risibilus for occult fans. The atmosphere longs to drip dread and slow-burn menace, yet whilst composer Wojciech Kilar's largely succeeds with his darkly demented post-Dracula opera, the film's set-pieces utterly lack substance.
The dearth of any meaningful extras only adds to the gloom. Polanski's mediocre commentary sheds little illumination of what was a completely misguided production and the 2-minute featurette is a ridiculously insulting thing to add to the menu of a BD release. AV-wise, I'm troubled by this transfer. The hazy quality is not there to this degree on the SD edition and is, at times, absolutely horrible. Yet detail is still much more apparent. The DTS-HD MA is about what should be expected. It does nothing extraordinary, and certainly adds nothing bogus or unnecessary to the mix, but it still lacks presence, strength and the requisite atmosphere for what we have come to savour from Lionsgate's 7.1 makeovers. Kilar's score is nicely presented, though.
Overall, this is a release that, like Balkan's Satanic book, is best left untouched. The story is all hook and no real plot. The acting is largely acceptable, but the cast have so little to actually work with that even a towering performance could not save the day. I would normally have said that Depp is always watchable, but when the movie he is in is as dreary, dull and un-involving as this then even he cannot keep the attention. In actual fact, Depp is woefully unbelievable as the cynical, but highly knowledgeable Corso - an earring, a stylish goatee and an attitude do not convince us that his character is anything more than a collection of visual traits.
I was really hoping to have been proved wrong by time, but my first assumptions back when the film was released still stand with as much vigour - The Ninth Gate is a terrible film and most definitely not worth spending your hard-earned on.
The Devil should be given his dues ... but he would demand a refund on this, I'm sure.
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