NINE: Blu-Ray (Relativity/Lucamar/Weinstein 2009) Alliance Home Video
How could any movie, even one as loosely based on Federico Fellini's immortal classic 8 1/2 miserably fail? Director, Rob Marshall demonstrates with Nine (2009), that half-mark adding virtually nothing to the existential ennui or importance to what is essentially a dull, leaden and ashen ghost flower of the original show, proving just how elusive Fellini's blend of neo-realism and broad satire were, incapably to be recaptured – in English – and, on celluloid for the postmodern generation. As a Broadway show, Nine was an enigmatic, energetic and somewhat emblematic entertainment - a rollicking pop opera, more directly derived from Arthur Kopit's book with bombastic songs written by Maury Yeston. Yet, like Richard Attenborough's filmic adaptation of A Chorus Line (1985), Marshall has quietly forgotten that what sends chills of exhilaration down the spine in a live theater on opening night, can just as easily turn to inconsequential vapors of failed razz-a-matazz once the proscenium has been flattened from three into two dimensions for the motion picture screen. Nine – the movie, plays more like an exhumation, rather than exaltation, of the stage show with the faint aroma of formaldehyde permeating every frame.
There is plenty of style here, but regrettably little substance to hang our hopes, with Daniel Day-Lewis as a competent - though nevertheless 'not terribly swarthy' replacement for Javier Bardem; cast herein as the aging impresario, Guido Contini. Day-Lewis – a brilliant actor elsewhere, herein remains convincing only in fits and sparks, struggling to lose himself in the role. As such, he never overcomes our estimation he is not an Italian - the greasy locks and faux accent, mere window dressing that speak more to a stereotype than an iconic character study of the aging Lothario. The screenplay by the late Anthony Minghella and Michael Tolkin begins in earnest with Contini at Mussolini's famed Cinecitta Studios in 1966, desperate to develop a creative idea for his latest film project - 'Italia'. Contini is driven to distraction by a bevy of beauties who enter and leave his life at the most inopportune moments. He is also haunted by conversations he has with his dead mother (Sophia Loren). Surrounded by sycophants who cling to his every word as though it were the new gospel, Contini begins to suffer from angst-ridden panic attacks that force him to retreat to the country for some rest and relaxation.
His producer (Ricky Tognazzi) and press manager, Fausto (Giuseppe Cederna) exhibit a quiet, if frenetic, urge for Contini to will an existentialist masterpiece from his crumbling creative genius. Only costume designer, Lilli La Fleur (Judi Dench) realizes how grave the situation is. Contini has yet to pen a single word of his script. Distracted by an on again/off again affair with Carla Albanese (Penelope Cruz), Contini begins to reflect on the various women who have shaped his life and career. These include seaside prostitute, Saraghina (Fergie), Vogue fashion journalist, Stephanie (Kate Hudson), Guido's first filmic muse and later, his wife, Luisa (Marion Cotillard) and his latest creative spur, aloof film star, Claudia Jenssen (Nicole Kidman). Gradually, a tragic portrait begins to emerge of a man on the verge of destroying himself through genius and excess (Think Roy Scheider in All That Jazz, but without either Scheider’s charisma or Bob Fosse’s introspection to carry it off). Seemingly incapable of sincerity, after retreating to the country, Contini telephones his wife to plead for her company, then just as quickly suggests she stay in Rome while he works on finalizing details for his movie. At Contini's insistence, Carla arrives in town and quickly discovers her love for Contini is not genuinely reciprocated. Shortly thereafter she attempts suicide.
Realizing 'Italia' has no script, Claudia appears briefly for a makeup and wardrobe test before bowing out of the project; also, Contini's love life, without much regret. She has already classified him as a lost cause, a rather earth-shattering revelation for Contini that is later confirmed by his dead mother, who also casually walks away from her son during one of the movie’s many dream sequences. As for Luisa, she has run out of reasons to stay married to the man for whom she sincerely cares. Like the rest, Luisa departs Contini's life, forcing him to admit to his cast and crew that 'Italia' will never be. Thus, ends Nine on a remarkably downtrodden and depressing beat. Director, Marshall - who previously scored an Oscar-winning mega-hit with Chicago (2002) is in his element when staging the gaudy glam-bam and cavalcade of MTV-inspired songs and dances that frequently interrupt this straight-forward narrative, rather shamelessly to provide only a heightening distraction for both Contini and the audience. But the non-musical portions lack spark – even sparkle – to faithfully connect these energetic outbursts. Kate Hudson delivers the highest-octane moment, warbling Cinema Italiano to a cavorting troop of thin tie, pinched-pant male runway dancers. Marion Cotillard has the most introspective and moving song - the bittersweet 'My Husband Makes Movies' in which the last vestiges of her waning love for Contini are painfully severed. On the whole, Nine rates about a two-and-a-half on a scale of one-to-ten. It rarely elevates its level of artistry to a finite reflection, even a dim one, of Fellini’s masterwork.
Alliance Home Video's Blu-Ray is also not quite what we expected to see. In the first place, colors do not pop as they should. The palette is rather anemic. Take, for example, the first moment when Carla emerges from the train to meet Contini for their final weekend tryst. On screen, her velvet ensemble was blood red, easily the most intense color depicted in this otherwise drab station set. Yet, on the Blu-Ray her outfit merely rates as red, flat and even to some extent washed out. Darker scenes suffer from a lack of solid blacks and weaker than expected contrast levels. Flesh tones are natural enough. But fine detail is wanting, especially during scenes staged at night. On the whole, this is an average-looking 1080p transfer. The audio is DTS 5.1 and aggressive during the musical sequences, though otherwise nondescript during dialogue sequences. Extras include several brief featurettes on the cast, crew, staging and making of the film, as well as deleted scenes, an audio commentary and theatrical trailer. Bottom line: Nine is not one for the ages. It’s not even one for the moment, or from the heart. Regrets.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)