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After the human race has been destroyed by machines nine small creatures are woken up. They were the last creation of a genius scientist to try and keep life alive on earth. But the machines are still hunting and they have set their sights on these small creatures.
After seeing the trailer for this at the beginning of the year I was very eager to see it. Then I watched the 10 minute short that this movie is based off of, and I was even more excited to see it. Surprisingly it lived up to my expectations. 9 is a great, fun movie.
The story is very simple, and I have seen it criticized for it. Don’t believe the stuffed shirt critics a simple plot does not mean a stupid plot. It just means there aren’t twists and turns and subplots ever five minutes. It is a straight forward story of survival. Taken as such it works very well and is both exciting and fulfilling.
The voice acting was very good, Elijah Wood voiced the lead hero 9 himself, while others like Jennifer Connelly and Crispin Glover made up the remaining 8 creatures. Basically they are little steampunk creatures built by the scientist that created the artificial intelligence that starts the war between humans and machines. Don’t worry that isn’t spoiler info, I don’t give spoilers in my posts. There are many machine versus man movies Terminator, the Matrix, etc but what makes this one special is that humanity loses. Completely. And the heroes of the film are machines, but they are special because they were given souls. The 9 are tasked with restoring life to the planet.
But first they have to survive the machine that destroyed an entire planet. That is where the action comes in. I have seen some bashing because the action scenes can be cliché at times, like the “running in a tunnel with a fire ball exploding after you”, etc. Well duh! Even though they aren’t human it is meant to be realistic, neither the creatures or the machines have superpowers. They can only be cut or smashed like humans. So there are only so many ways to depict jeopardy for the heroes so of course there are going to be the action stand by scenes. That doesn’t mean they are done cheesy or stupid. The action scenes are some of my favorite because they are so beautifully done. The direction, editing and look of the explosions and near misses are wonderful. They draw you in and get your heart pumping, I was more engrossed in the action of 9 than I was with a lot of movies this summer including the “blockbusters”.
Even though it is all CG, it looks like a Tim Burton film. Which makes sense since he is a produce on this movie. Backgrounds and objects look real and lifelike to the point that sometimes you think you are watching a live action set. And the creatures, with their stitching, and the machines with their metallic shine, look very real world. It was impressive just from a visual stand point regardless of what you may think of the movie itself. Luckily the movie is good too.
9 is the animated tale of a world destroyed by its own need for technology. In the wake of this destruction, all that is left are violent machines that scour for anything that might have survived and a small group of creatures created by the scientist responsible for the ultimate killing machine that wiped out the population.
The scientist, woeful over the machine he created, decides to make small burlap-covered creatures as an act of redemption (maybe even as a way to recreate humanity). All numbered sequentially, they represent the various human qualities of the scientist and when number 9 (Elijah Wood) is born, the elderly scientist is left dead on the floor, and now 9 is has to figure out just what he is and what the world is around him.
While initially exploring, he runs into number 2 (Martin Landau) who bravely sacrifices himself to one of the scouring machines so that 9 can escape. 9 realizes that he needs to rescue number 2 and on his journey comes across a group of the other creatures created by the scientist, including number 1 (Christopher Plummer), who thinks that hiding from the machines is better than fighting them.
Now it’s up to 9 and the others to try and rescue 2 as well as destroy the evil machines before its too late for them.
9 and number 5 (John C. Reilly) set out to find where 2 is being held captive and come across the reclusive number 7 (Jennifer Connelly), the lone wolf of the group who has some serious trust issues, but definitely packs a mean punch. The trio find number 2, but in the midst of their rescue, 9 unknowingly awakens the previously mentioned ultimate killing machine.
The group is faced with the ultimate terror: a machine that not only can create other destructive machines to hunt them down, but is also capable of stealing their souls, their humanity, and ultimately their lives.
Director Acker brings his unique stitch-punk vision alive that he first created through his 2004 Academy Award nominated short film but on a much larger scale now. With a feature-length film, Acker was given an opportunity to really flesh out his characters and explore the idea of what makes us human and just how as a society we need to be able to work together for a better existence.
What’s also remarkable in terms of 9 is that it doesn’t “feel” animated. I know the movie is filled with vocal performances only, but somehow I felt like I was seeing the actors on the screen and not creatures. Wood’s performance of the titular character 9 is just wonderful, and Connelly's voice just sparks on screen whenever 7 is featured.
One of my favorite characters that isn’t as predominantly featured as the others is number 6 (voiced by Crispin Glover). 6 is the one who has figured out how to destroy the machine, but because of his manic behaviors (with slight autistic tendencies), no one listens to him. Glover plays the character with a quiet restraint and an almost playful demeanor. It makes me long to see Glover working regularly again on quality projects.
As a bit of an animation geek, I remember the awe I felt the first time I saw a trailer for 9, and somehow the trailers don’t even do the movie justice in terms of all of the startling but stunning visuals used throughout. The art directors and animators on 9 somehow find a way to make the devastation of our planet look beautiful and haunting all at the same time.
9 manages to have an underlying socio-political message, an exploration of the many facets of human nature, and still finds a way to be a breathtaking and entertaining animated feature that leaves you engrossed until the very end. That’s no small feat and is due to Acker’s abilities as a storyteller.
Be warned though - 9 is not a Disney movie by any means. There are some sequences that will definitely be too harsh for the younger crowd, but the animated feature is something that I feel audiences ten and up will enjoy. The movie does end on a bit of a downer, but somehow it doesn’t feel like a downer - which, again, is due to Acker’s ability to show cause and effect in a manner that is both realistic but still satisfying for audiences.
9 has a very Coraline-esque tone to it, so if that’s a film you enjoyed, then this movie is definitely something worth checking out on the big screen.
The question really isn’t whether directors Shane Acker’s “9” is a good film or not. The real question is whether American filmgoers are ready for this audacious directorial debut?
The story behind the making of “9” is interesting in its own right. Acker was slowly climbing up the animation ladder thanks in large part to the three shorts he created, “The Hangnail” (1999), “The Astounding Talents of Mr. Grenade” (2003) and, finally, a short version of “9” (2005). The last one earned Acker an Oscar nomination.
Admittedly heavily influenced by stop motion surrealists Jan Svankmayer and the Brothers Quay, the cohesive plotting of the Academy Award nom caught the attention of no less than director/producer Tim Burton. From there, Burton brought in the Russian maverick director Timur Bekmambatov (“Nightwatch,” “Daywatch,” and “Wanted”), and those two convinced Focus Features to finance a full-length "9" feature using an accounting technique called negative-pickup. After 4 ½ years in production, Acker achieved all he had to do to meet the Focus contract, and the film hits the big screen — appropriately — on September 9, 2009 (aka 9/9/9).
Story wise, anyone familiar with “The Matrix” won’t be the slightest bit surprised by “9,” only in this movie both sides have lost. Into this post-apocalyptic universe enters the title character 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood), a living puppet made of cloth, armatures, a bit of science, and some interesting Eastern European alchemy.
Now 9’s purpose isn’t to become a real boy like another famous animated puppet. In fact, at his “birth” he doesn’t truly know what, if any purpose he has. It’s only when he meets the eight others who were built like him, particularly 2 (Martin Landau) and 5 (John C. Reilly) that he starts developing his own reason for existence. Fans of any decent science fiction will have few issues figuring what it is.
That’s about the only real negative, if that’s one, of the film.
Visually, “9” has to be the most stunning experience produced in the U.S. since the first “Toy Story.” That doesn’t mean in the cute and fuzzy department either. Instead, “9” is as revolutionary a tour de force as “Toy Story” was in 1995.
Acker has visual signatures of Svankmayer, the Quays, Jiri Trnka and all those highly Eastern Euro-influenced stop motion masters and successfully translated them into CGI. Adding in his own personal tastes, the Wachowskis and other masters of post-apocalyptic settings, the film carries its own gritty integrity while adding the flawless movement of well-rendered CGI.
In plain English, the “wow” factor of this film's graphics and sequences are truly off the meter. Every time you think Acker can’t do any better, he succeeds in topping himself again and again and again.
This still leaves the question though of how Americans will take to this movie. Quite frankly, it will probably be a huge hit in Europe, where Acker’s aforementioned influences are revered as minor saints. It would not be surprising if it does well in Japan, which has its share of successful stop-motion mavericks such as Kihachiro Kawamoto. Even Canada, which reveres Norman McLaren, will probably go for it.
Yet here in the U.S. of A., the unfortunate truth is, by American standards, “9” is graphically at least five years ahead of its time, a circumstance Burton should already be quite familiar with this. After all, he produced “Nightmare Before Christmas” and “The Corpse Bride,: two animated films which only earned acceptance years after their original release. And when it comes to Acker’s feature-length debut, it should be filed along with those two films as well as “The Iron Giant.”
Not that this is a totally bad thing. “Nightmare” and “Giant” are now accepted as animated classics. Their respective directors, Henry Selick and Brad Bird, now get the kudos they so deserve. “Bride’s” director, Miller, will probably have it in the future too.
So will Acker...in about 2015.