MOVIE-HYPE (#747) - THE NINTH GATE
Roman Polanski's THE NINTH GATE starts out in spectacular fashion. Literally. The opening title sequence is stupendously cool. From that point, the film stays on the mysteriously intriguing track for awhile, slowly meandering over to simply bizarre, and then, almost without us realizing how or when, the whole thing turns awful.
What I cannot figure out is if Polanski, as celebrated a filmmaker as Europe possesses, not to mention the director of the best-received occult film in history (ROSEMARY'S BABY) means to make the movie this bad, or was it an accident? Good filmmakers make bad movies all the time. One cannot help but wonder, though, if this wasn't Polanski's goal all along, some subtle commentary on something that is only known to him.
I can't begin to answer that. I have a complicated relationship with the man, and bring many of those biases and preconception into the screening room with me. What I will say is this: I do not see how there can be the least disagreement that THE NINTH GATE, at least by the end, has careened into truly awful territory. Yet I have seen the film three times, and find myself strangely compelled, if only by the awful.
(If you doubt my word: my friend Carlos considers THE NINTH GATE one of the best scary movies ever, and Carlos is about as reliable a barometer of bad movies as there is.)
The plot sort of makes sense, at lest until the last act we discussed. Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is a rare books dealer, and comes across The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows. The book is about opening up the Nine Gates. I'll leave it to you to figure out what happens when that Ninth Gate opens. The way the gates open is more complicated, and involves the last three remaining original copies of this book, which several powerful people want. (Two of these people are played by Frank Langella and Lena Olin, who seem to be auditioning for a place in The Grand Guignol. Langella always cracks me up no matter what he does, and Olin....well, she's at least agreeably naked in a few scenes, so there's that.)
The idea of a book that might summon the Prince of...oh, wait. I wasn't going to say anything about that. Anyway, the idea of a book bringing forth Dark powers is silly but not a bad plot for a horror movie. Though not overwhelmingly interesting, there is at least a creepy atmosphere factor, which helps hide howbugnuts crazy the movie is heading.
Then comes the naked flying blonde lady, and Heaven (or Hell) help you if you can make sense of things after that.
On the one hand, there is an obvious explanation for her appearance, but it's so ridiculous that to accept it leads only to the idea that Polanski has been laughing at us the whole time. Either that, or he really had no clue what was going on. (More on that in a minute.) On the other hand, movie nudity doesn't get much more awesome than a sweaty EmmanuelleSeigner, so I'm loathe to complain.
As far as Johnny Depp goes, the performance is rather strange. I read the following on Wikipedia from director Polanski:
"He [Depp] decided to play it rather flat which wasn't how I envisioned it. And I didn't tell him it wasn't how I saw it."
Huh? You're the freaking director! Why wouldn't you explain to your lead actor how you want the character portrayed?
I don't want to read too much into it, but it's comments like this that make me wonder if anyone actually had a clue what they were doing. Perhaps even more damning (or less, depending on how we're using the word), when the whole big Evil conspiracy comes to light I was left just shaking my head. This was what everyone was so excited about? It was worth killing all those people to get those books for this?
We're dealing with the Kingdom of Shadows, after all. One would expect something a little more regal.
I'm left with one of Frank Langella's lines. He speaks to a group of....let's call them "occult enthusiasts," but he might as well be talking about the whole movie:
"Look around you all what do you see? A bunch of buffoons parading around in fancy dress. You think the prince of Darkness would deign to manifest himself before the likes of you? He never has and he never will! Never."
At the risk of offending naked flying sweaty blondie,