9 is a 2009 American computer-animated science fiction action/adventure film directed by Shane Acker and produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov. The film stars the voices of Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Crispin Glover, Fred Tatasciore, Martin Landau and Christopher Plummer. It is based on Acker's Academy Award-nominated 2005 short film of the same name. The screenplay for the film was written by Pamela Pettler, with casting by Mindy Marin, production design by Robert St. Pierre and Fred Warter, and art direction by Christophe Vacher. Prior to the events of film, a scientist is ordered by his dictator to create a machine in the apparent name of progress. The Scientist uses his own intellect to create the B.R.A.I.N., a thinking robot. However, the dictator quickly seizes it and integrates it into the Fabrication Machine, an armature that can construct an army of war machines to destroy the dictator's enemies. Lacking a soul, the Fabrication Machine is corrupted and exterminates all organic life using toxic gas.
An animated post-apocalyptic doodad, 9 is set amongst the scattered ashes and rubble of a great war waged between man and machine. All that remains of humanity are a set of nine dolls that look like tiny potato sacks with hands and feet. Thanks to some wild contraption dreamt up by a scientist, these nine dolls were fitted with souls. Amongst ash, rubble, and corpses, they represent the impossibly fragile last thumbprints of the world of humans — empty sacks fitted with metaphysics.
The film, directed by Shane Acker and expanded from his Oscar-nominated short, opens with the awakening of a voiceless heap named 9 who carries a small, mysterious device with him. Walking amongst the dead, 9 bumps into 2 (Martin Landau), an inventor doll who retrofits him with Elijah Wood’s voice. A quick friendship is born — just before a screeching, metallic quadruped attacks them in a breathless rush. It takes 2 and the small device back to its lair, leaving 9 to search for his ‘stitchpunk’ brethren.
The ‘beasts,’ as one doll refers to them, are sparse in number and localized in a foreboding factory in the distance. In one of the film’s numerous heavy-handed tirades pitting fear against hope (familiar?), 9 finds himself in the realm of 1 (Christopher Plummer), the de facto lord of the dolls, demanding they go rescue 2 from the beast’s sanctum while the cantankerous leader insists he’s already dead. Not to be dissuaded, 9 strikes out with the tinkering 5 (John C. Reilly) only to find 2 being held captive in a rusty birdcage while the beast circles and corners them.
The boys are rescued (naturally) by 7 (Jennifer Connelly), a warrior who uses a bird skull as armor. Her appearance is coincidental but then so is the thoughtless curiosity that leads 9 to attach the small device to a corresponding outlet that shoots out a green ray that takes 2′s soul and awakens a giant monster machine that looks like an armored octopus with one huge red eye. Able to create its own beasts, the red eye sets out to capture the souls of the dolls so that it may learn the importance of all things spiritual.
What may be entertaining and persuasive in an 11-minute short doesn’t always translate when the weight of the soul rests on it. Shepherded by producers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov, this visually enticing, clunky, and needlessly baroque piece of Armageddon works best when it stays away from transcendental speculation. Expectedly, Acker’s inventiveness is best showcased when he gets to bring out the villainous gadgets — the cobra-bot that uses a dead doll for bait is sincerely petrifying — but his attempts to discourse on individuality and resurrected humanity feel forced and unconvincing.
In its first half, 9 pulls you in with the promise of discovery and the thrill of action, but its endgame becomes muddier as it trudges along. Projected by the data-collecting 3 and 4, we find out that the machines were once good but corrupted by man’s fear of the unknown. 9‘s crafty concept feels similarly warped by a need for catharsis, worn structure, and mindless intimations towards the beyond.
The DVD includes commentary track, the original 9 short film, and making-of featurettes.
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