Posted by: jamesodinwade | September 13, 2009

Review: 9 (2009)

“We had such potential. Such promise.”

Director: Shane Acker

Writers: Pamela Pettler (screenplay), Shane Acker (story)

Starring: Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, John C Reilly, Martin Landau, Jennifer Connelly

Rating:

Do you remember seeing old movies that depict the future as a sort of capitalist utopia? You put on your moon boots, step into your flying car and zoom across the metropolitan landscape on your way to a meeting to dicuss interplanetary finance? It seems North American culture, once very attached to these fantasies have slowly come to the assumption that we are inevitably headed towards apocalypse, be it from nature, nuclear war or robots turned against us. Three major movies released this year will deal with narratives set in a post-apocalyptic landscape, but unlike 2012 or The Road, 9 finds it’s footing in a world well after humans have become extinct.

In the enigmatic opening sequence we see human hands stitching together a small burlap doll who will turn out to be our main character. How exactly 9 was created and why is the central the mystery of the film. 9 wakes up and wanders through the debris of a society ruined by a war between man and machine and eventually finds some other rag-tag rag dolls, each with a number 1 through 8 and one or two distinguishing feaures. 9 vies against 1 for leadership of their small group as they themselves attempt to escape from extinction at the vicious talons of what is referred to simply as The Beast, a huge mechanical monster who seems to desperately want to eat their glowing green life forces.

The first film from director Shane Acker, 9 is based on his short film of the same name. Attracting the attention of producers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov (Nightwatch, Wanted) Acker expands his vision by about 70 minutes and adds a host of acclaimed voice actors. The result is engrossing, yet somewhat dissapointing. With the increased runtime and over-abundance of action sequences 9 unfortunately loses much of the suspense and even some of the overall poetry of it’s shorter counterpart.

The best aspect of this film is undoubtedly the animation. If not much else, this is a fully realized world we step into, each set littered with remnants of a recently deceased culture, painstakingly imagined. It is easy for your eye to get lost among the debris which, not to be Professor Debris over here, but it looks pretty good. The only complaint I have pertaining to the animation is in some of the (rather redundant) action sequences  our eye cannot fixate on anything to gain contrast and the screen becomes a muddied blur of CGI. That too is the problem with the main villain The Machine. After roughly an hour of watching it I’m not actually sure what the damned thing actually looks like and I’d venture to guess this was not a deliberate choice by the director.

Science Fiction perhaps more than any other genre has the power, through it’s imagination to satirize and hyperbolize our own world and make us ask tough questions about humanity, especially in it’s relationship to technology. The ultimate letdown of 9 is that it is too busy blowing shit up to ask any of the hard questions it so obviously can with a premise such as this. Instead, after 79 minutes of mindless (albeit fun) action scenes we are no closer to any universal truths, only a few cookie-cutter moments clearly meant to appease family audiences rather than stimulate them. This is a film worth seeing, but for the depth of the style, not the substance. Enough of this, where are my moon boots?

-James

Shane Acker’s orginal short

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