The Ninth Gate and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Anthony G Williams

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

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!

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.

(This entry is cross-posted from my science-fiction & fantasy blog.)