The Ninth Gate (1999) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Two non-committal thumbs held about parallel to the ground. An OK movie which should have been a lot better.

Tuna's comments in white:

The Ninth Gate (1999) is an International co-production directed by Roman Polanski and starring Johnny Depp. That kind of talent probably makes it sound better than it actually is.

Depp plays a book researcher. A famous collector of satanic books hires him to authenticate a rare volume and compare it against the only two other copies in existence. It gradually becomes clear that there is immortality and a horrible power to be gained from a secret which requires all three books, and that Satan himself created the secret code. Depp has therefore gotten into the middle of something far more sinister than he had originally thought.

As the mystery unfolds, he collects a guardian angel in the form of Emmanuelle Seigner, and an enemy played by Lena Olin.

The DVD includes a commentary by Polanski, the key points of which are:

  • The book he adapted, The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte, was far too complex for a film, so he greatly simplified it and made the narrative linear.

  • Polanski saw the mysterious third book as the main character in the script, and viewed the unseen Satan as another major character.

  • He wasn't sure why Depp played a one note character, but thought it worked anyway.

  • He preferred to shoot this film studios whenever possible, because he used a great deal of subtle CGI.

  • Polanski normally does not storyboard unless CGI is to be added, because he feels it restricts creativity.

In addition to wasting the immensely talented Depp in a one-note portrayal, The Ninth Gate lacks depth and complexity, and is overly long. It either needs more meat or a shorter running time. Polanski actually bragged that he didn't cut a single scene during editing, although he did shorten some, but he there simply wasn't enough substance to fill the 133 minutes of running time.

It did, however, look really good, the research on the satanic symbols was very good, and the magick books were rather convincing. All in all, this is an OK occult mystery that should have been much stronger.


Scoop's comments in yellow:

Interesting premise. Depp is an expert on old books. He is searching for the remaining three copies of "The Nine Gates", a book supposedly co-authored by Lucifer himself. Each of the editions has nine engravings, six drawn by the human author and three from the hand of His Satanic Majesty himself. The human work is uniform across all three editions, but Satan's three drawings are different in each book, so you need all three books to get the whole nine-gated collection. It's kind of like one of those supermarket encyclopedia deals.

Depp comes to realize that he must get the nine pictures drawn by Satan before some baddies do. Emmanuelle Seigner is probably some kind of guardian angel who protects Depp from the baddies.

Good start. It's a stylized noir, dripping with atmosphere, and featuring some deliciously campy scenery-chewing from Frank Langella and Lena Olin as the baddies. It exhibits some spooky CGI and some artistic set design from Polanski's team.

But for all the mystery and elegance of the premise, Polanski could not figure out how to resolve it ...

 ... or even whether to resolve it.


  • Olin's character shows buns and the side of a breast, but it is very likely a double.
  • Seigner shows breasts near the end of the film.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Commentary by Roman Polanski

  • Making Of "The Ninth Gate"

  • Production Stills and information

  • Widescreen anamorphic format

After an engaging start, the film slows down and really drags in the middle. Then it gets silly toward the end, and by the time you get to the last five minutes, you'll be throwing stuff at the screen. After the climax, I didn't know if Seigner was really a good angel or perhaps the Worst Angel of all. To tell you the truth, I really don't know what she was, what happened to her at the end, or what happened to Depp. Not only will you not know what happens at the end, but you won't even know whether it is good or bad. I was just flat-out cursing the ending, which turned the entire film experience into a very big and irritating disappointment, even though I really enjoyed a lot of the stylish groundwork.

The Critics Vote ...

  • There was no consensus from the super-panel. Berardinelli savaged it at one star out of four, and Ebert gave a thumbs down and two out of four, but BBC loved it, and gave it four stars out of five.

The People Vote ...

  • It did $18 million domestic gross, compared to a fairly expensive budget of $38 million.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. An OK movie on balance, consisting of excellent highs and dismal lows.

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