Missions Impossible

Despite an ending that out-Spielbergs the master, Mission to Mars mainly coarsens 2001 in its mix of cosmic consciousness and "naturalistic" product placement (Dr. Pepper bloblets and multicolored M&M's floating around the cockpit). As in the Kubrick trip, the middle voyage is best. Halfway through, De Palma literally explodes his narrative to orchestrate a superb deep-space float-opera replete with runaway modules, high-tech lassos, dramatic self-sacrifice, and, in the most surprising maneuver, a montage-driven modicum of actual suspense.

Barely releasable hokum, stuffed with cheesy blah-blah, Roman Polanski's tongue-in-cheek occult thriller The Ninth Gate stars a solemn and dapper Johnny Depp as a rare-book hustler hired to track down a 17th-century satanic tome for billionaire collector Frank Langella.

Fighting sensory overload with more of the same: Spectres of the Spectrum
photo courtesy of Cinema Village
Fighting sensory overload with more of the same: Spectres of the Spectrum


Spectres of the Spectrum
Written and directed by Craig Baldwin
At Cinema Village
March 17 through 23

Mission to Mars
Directed by Brian De Palma
Written by Jim Thomas & John Thomas and Graham Yost
A Touchstone Pictures release

The Ninth Gate
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Polanski, Enrique Urbizu, and John Brownjohn from the novel El Club Dumas by Arturo Prez-Reverte
An Artisan Entertainment release

Depp's leisurely quest leads through a posh, stodgy landscape of libraries, lecture halls, and back-alley biblio troves atingle with hissed warnings: "Some books are dangerous!" The path is strewn with red herrings and dead bodies; eventually, Depp realizes that he's picked up witchy Emmanuelle Seigner as his guardian angel. Uninspired yet incongruously jaunty, The Ninth Gate never quite becomes unwatchable. Indeed, one could take perverse pleasure in a contemporary exercise in supernaturalism whose most impressive special effect is the satanic tattoo on Lena Olin's backside.

If Mission to Mars manages an astonishing 30 minutes, The Ninth Gate barely provides 30 seconds. For confessional pathos, it's a toss-up between the scene in which an elderly French baroness in a motorized wheelchair brandishes her stump and tells Depp that her "orgy days are over" and the desultory black mass (seemingly in Swedish) that Langella disrupts with heartfelt cries of "mumbo-jumbo."

Rear Window redux: It's come to my attention that, in writing on Rear Window and its career as a cinema-studies text (January 25, 2000), I failed to cite Robert Stam and Roberta Pearson's 1982 essay "Rear Window: Reflexivity and the Critique of Voyeurism." Regrettable in itself, the omission is additionally embarrassing in that I inadvertently paraphrased several insights originating in that influential analysis.

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