Films: The Ninth Gate (1999) and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

Anthony G Williams

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This time we have two Johnny Depp films for the price of one.

I hadn't previously seen The Ninth Gate. Depp plays Dean Corso, a mercenary book dealer who is hired by Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to verify the authenticity of a rare book he owns, The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, of which only three copies are known. The book contains nine engravings which legend says were drawn by the Devil and will summon him if used in the correct way.

Corso searches for information about the book and visits the owners of the other two copies to make direct comparisons. Along the way he meets the previous owner of Balkan's copy (Lena Olin) who is desperate to recover it, and keeps seeing a mysterious unnamed girl (Emmanuelle Seigner) who has a knack of turning up at the right moment to save him from danger. Corso discovers that only three engravings in each copy are genuine - it is necessary to bring them all together to achieve the desired effect. The bodies begin to pile up as rivals compete to obtain the nine genuine engravings, culminating in occult ceremonies.

This is described as a horror film, which surprises me as there is nothing particularly horrific - or even occult - about it. It is quite low-key and slow-paced, and is best regarded as a mystery. The only supernatural elements are a couple of gravity-defying tricks by the unnamed girl, and the very last scene which frankly left me baffled as to what it all meant. However, the film is stylish, looks good and is moderately entertaining; and, if nothing else appeals, male viewers can enjoy the sight of Olin and Seigner!

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The fourth of the Pirates of the Caribbean films has Depp once again reprising his role as the iconic Captain Sparrow, although the two secondary stars of the earlier films (Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom) disappear and Penélope Cruz joins the crew as Sparrow's love interest. The only other memorable characters are Ian McShane as Blackbeard and the young mermaid Syrena, played rather fetchingly by Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey.

I don't have a lot to say about this one. It's just more of the same, but not a lot more. I expected Cruz to pair very well with Depp but her performance never takes off and there is zero chemistry between them. In fact, the entire cast seems subdued, as if they're not having much fun. Even Depp's performance (as usual, the main reason to watch the film) is toned down, and the film lacks the joie de vivre which made the earlier ones (especially the first) so enjoyable. I note that this film had a different director from the first three, Rob Marshall replacing Gore Verbinski, and apparently the budget didn't allow for as many special effects, both of which presumably contributed to the malaise.

The film finished with lots of dangling loose ends and two more sequels are reportedly planned, which just goes to prove (once more) that Hollywood can't see a dead horse without giving it a thorough flogging.

(An extract from my SFF blog)
 

Snowdog

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Re: Films: The Ninth Gate (1999) and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (201

I've seen The Ninth Gate and I thought it was pretty dismal, though I have to say that the fault lies primarily with the book it was based on, which was also pretty dismal, with too obvious plotting and an ending you could see a mile away.

I had high hopes, though, for On Stranger Tides, based as it was on Tim Powers' excellent book of the same name. I don't like Keira Knightly but it appears to have been a mistake to drop her. This sounds like a franchise that's being dragged out purely for financial reasons rather than letting it die a natural death. I'll still watch it when I get a chance. Jack Sparrow is definitely one of the more memorable movie characters of the last few years.
 

williamjm

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Re: Films: The Ninth Gate (1999) and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (201

I had high hopes, though, for On Stranger Tides, based as it was on Tim Powers' excellent book of the same name.


Unfortunately, it only has vague similarities to Powers' book, the plot is almost completely different aside from featuring pirates and a quest for the Fountain of Youth and only two characters (both real historical figures) appear in both - Blackbeard and Juan Ponce de Leon. I don't think they really adapted the book, I suspect they realised the film they wanted to make was similar enough to the book that they bought the filming rights to it to avoid any danger of them being sued for plagiarism.

The book is a lot better. The film is a reasonably entertaining blockbuster that's probably better the the first two Pirates sequels but nowhere near as good as the first film.

I saw The Ninth Gate on TV a few years ago. It was quite atmospheric, but also a bit dull and I didn't really care for any of the characters. I've seen some attempts online to explain the meaning of the film (particularly the ending), according to some theories apparently there are a lot of hints in the film that Depp's character is in fact the Devil (who is apparently in human form and has forgotten who he really is) and the film tells of his quest to return to his rightful place, Seigner's character knows who he is and is trying to help him. I'm almost tempted to rewatch the film to see if that theory actually makes sense.
 

Anthony G Williams

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Re: Films: The Ninth Gate (1999) and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (201

I saw The Ninth Gate on TV a few years ago. It was quite atmospheric, but also a bit dull and I didn't really care for any of the characters. I've seen some attempts online to explain the meaning of the film (particularly the ending), according to some theories apparently there are a lot of hints in the film that Depp's character is in fact the Devil (who is apparently in human form and has forgotten who he really is) and the film tells of his quest to return to his rightful place, Seigner's character knows who he is and is trying to help him. I'm almost tempted to rewatch the film to see if that theory actually makes sense.

That would actually make a degree of sense - but there isn't a clue in the film to suggest that it might be the case. Other than the fact that Seigner's character doesn't act like an angel...
 

williamjm

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Re: Films: The Ninth Gate (1999) and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (201

That would actually make a degree of sense - but there isn't a clue in the film to suggest that it might be the case. Other than the fact that Seigner's character doesn't act like an angel...

I think the theory I read had a list of things in the film that were clues towards that, but it's probably been a couple of years since I read it and I can't remember what they were now (and didn't spot them when I watched it). I think when I saw the film, my theory about the ending was that Seigner's character was the Devil, which I think would also make some sense.
 

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