It started out as an 11 minute short; a grad school thesis at UCLA born from the talents of visionary director Shane Acker in 2005. Since then, it has received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short, gaining both artistic and critical acclaim in the process. Now, it makes its debut as a full-length animated feature adapted from Acker’s original short, thanks to the help of big name filmmakers and producers including Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted). It’s all pretty impressive, really.
Machines finally conquer mankind in 9, a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi/action fantasy told through impressively stylized CGIs that resemble stop-motion animation, and features the voice talents of well-known stars including Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Crispin Glover, Martin Landau, and Christopher Plummer. While initially intended to provide potential peace during war against a Hitler-esque dictator, the powerfully technological machines turn on their human creators, resulting in the demise of all humanity. The small trace of human existence that does survive is a tiny ragdoll-like robot known as 9 (Wood), created by one known only as The Scientist (Alan Oppenheimer). When 9 awakes to complete ruin and destruction, he fears he is the only one left of his kind and goes off in search of others that may have survived. He finally encounters 2 (Landau), who eventually leads him to the remaining gang of ragdoll-robots, all appropriately named and numbered 1 through 8. Soon after, 2 is taken captive by a fearsome machine named The Beast. 9 attempts to persuade the group to go off in search for 2, as well as a talisman also taken by The Beast, which holds the secrets of The Scientist as well as protection from a potentially threatening fate. Despite the disproval of the group’s dominating and untrusting leader 1 (Plummer) and his head crony 8 (Fred Tatasciore). 9 quickly finds himself allied with 5 (Reilly), 6 (Glover), and 7 (Connelly), as well as 3 and 4 (twins who communicate only through the flickering and projection of their binocular eyes) in their quest to regain the talisman and their attempt to prevail against the machines that threaten their very existence.
9, despite the animation, is most definitely not a movie for the kids; there are scenes of intense action and violence, and the images of the film are oftentimes disturbing, morbid, and frightening. Yet despite the fact that 9 seems to be geared towards a more mature and adult audience, the film’s dialogue remains incredibly bland, childish, and oftentimes laughable. If anything weighs this movie down, it’s definitely the dialogue. It’s the false, cheesy, action one-liner speak that one hears all too often and has been overdone entirely too many times. What’s interesting, though, is that Acker’s original short was completely void of dialogue; it was only until the full-length feature that the dialogue was added (in the hopes of attracting a wider and more mainstream audience, no doubt). Truth be told, the film might have been more intriguing without the dialogue; the scenes without verbal character exchange were far more engaging than those with. It just seems as though a movie such as this, that isn’t really geared towards little ones, would have been better suited were the words more sophisticated and provocative.
Apart from the mistake of adding dialogue, 9 is remarkably beautiful. Acker’s careful attention to detail is breathtaking, and even the characters are oddly attractive, each of them sporting unique physical characteristics that match their separate personalities. Regardless of the fact that the man vs. machine plot is something the majority is familiar with, the way 9 approaches a similar set-up is really unlike anything seen before. It definitely projects the promise in Acker, who will hopefully continue to surprise and contribute to the film world. Until then, 9 is absolutely worth checking out.