In a world parallel to our own, a doll named #9 awakens in the remnants of what once used to be a home. He has no knowledge of what has transpired before he awoke or what his purpose is now that he has. Outside he finds a desolate landscape littered with the war-torn remains of man’s past creations. Hiding among these ruins he finds others like him, a small band of living rag-dolls named by the numbers that were painted on their backs by a hand long dead. But when one of their own is abducted by a mechanical monster, #9 leads a rescue attempt against the advice of the others. This leads to #9 inadvertently re-activating an artificial intelligence that immediately begins creating machines to hunt down and destroy them. Now #9 and his ilk are about to learn the reason for their existence, as well as their purpose, when they are forced to put aside their differences, emerge from hiding, and destroy this new enemy.
It was gonna be tough for Shane Acker and crew to screw this up for me. As a lover of all things post-apocalyptic as well the steampunk genre, 9 looked like a film that would appeal to me on several levels – even if it were just on the visuals alone. Sure, a great story would be icing on the cake, but honestly I was only going in to this in hopes of masturbating my eyeballs.
While the Terminator-ish scenario ended up being a bit underwhelming for me, my eyeballs were not disappointed. In between puffs of their cigarettes, they thanked me for the good time. 9 features some amazing artwork. The details put into the dolls only paled in comparison to the details put into the environments they inhabited. The colors, the rubble, the trash, the junk lying around that has been dismantled and used by our small heroes. It’s some good, imaginative stuff that had me scanning the screen absorbing not only the objects in the forefront, but also all the cool stuff in the background.
This attention to detail and visual imagination transferred to the creature design as well. While each of the main characters were easily distinguishable from each other in both look and personality, the mechanical creatures that are hunting them down were even better. They were formidable, scary looking contraptions with one particular machine – a cobra-like horror with a baby-doll head – looking like it slithered right out of Tool’s Prison Sex video after Sid Phillip’s from Toy Story got his hands on it.
The voice-work was ok, but to be honest, aside from Christopher Plummer voicing the character of #1 and Martin Landau voicing #2, anyone could have filled in the remaining vocals. Crispin Glover, while recognizable, was barely used – same for Jennifer Connelly. I understand why they went with famous actors to provide voices for the dolls, I just wish Acker had carried over his original idea from the short film this movie is based off of and not gave them voices at all.
My gripes are that the story quality didn’t match all of the great visuals. It starts off well, as the viewer is left as clueless as the character as to exactly why they were granted life. This line of investigation never gets too deep as it is constantly interrupted by the re-occurring assaults by the enemy AI’s creations. Once the final pieces of the story’s puzzle are put into place in the third act, it felt like a bit of a cop out. Like Acker didn’t know exactly how he was going to stretch his Oscar nominated, 11-minute short into a full-length feature, and simply ran out of steam in the process of doing so. I felt some of the time used attempting the explanation they provided could have been better served fleshing out a few of #9′s burlap buddies.
Also know that 9 is short, running at a very lean 80 minutes. This works for and against the film depending on your stance. Some of you may not want to sit in a 3 hour film, especially if you have kids in tow. For you, the short running time means the film stays high on action and leaves very little time for anyone to become bored or for the rugrats to start impatiently squirming in their seats. But for others, especially with the price of going to a movie now days, may have some leave the theater feeling like they didn’t get enough bang for their buck.
But overall I really enjoyed 9, even if I did feel the story petered out and included a lame ending. If you wanna go to the movies to be entertained by some animated eye-candy in an post-apocalyptic action flick populated by talking sock puppets and some creepy machines - and not spend 3 hours doing so – then you won’t be disappointed with 9.
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