9

Movie Information

The Story: After humankind has been exterminated, a group of artifically created beings must bring life back to the world. The Lowdown: A marvel of animation and atmosphere tied to a dull story, limp characterizations and a monotonous approach.
Score:

Genre: Animated Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi
Director: Shane Acker
Starring: (Voices) Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau
Rated: PG-13

First-time director Shane Acker brings a lot of visual panache to his film 9. Unfortunately, it’s all one flavor of panache, housed in a film that’s entirely in one tone, and tied to a story that’s thinner than one of the lighter gases. I suppose if your idea of a good time is watching rag dolls being menaced by steampunkish machines for 79 minutes, 9 will fill the bill. Just be prepared for the fact that that is all this movie is going to do. I cannot recall a feature film that is so completely a one-note affair as this. Technically, the movie is a marvel. Dramatically, it’s a bore.

Owing to the rag-doll nature of the film’s protagonists and the movie’s otherwise vaguely steampunk look, Acker has referred to 9 as “stitchpunk,” a label that also serves as a good description of the story line, which is stitched together from a variety of sources. If the opening reminds you of Coraline, that’s probably because it looks almost identical to it. Even granting that if you’ve seen one post-apocalyptic landscape you’ve seen them all, the one here—and the flashbacks to the destruction of the world—owes more than a little to Hugh Harman’s 1939 cartoon Peace on Earth. (Funny thing is there’s nothing as chilling in 9 as the battle scenes in that 70-year-old cartoon.) One of the perils that besets our heroes in 9 is a dead ringer for the Christmas-tree-eating toy snake in Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Quite the oddest borrowings, however, come from the soul-sucking monster machine and the ultimate image of what becomes of these souls. If this doesn’t look familiar, you haven’t seen Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985).

It’s not so much the lack of originality that lays waste to the potential of 9, it’s the lack of a story and characters that we can care much about. Saying that the characters are all ciphers is too easy, since they have numbers rather than names, but it is also true. The sad thing about all this is that it didn’t have to be this way. There are vague intimations of something deeper lying beneath the film’s almost nonexistent story. In terms of design and costuming, for example, No. 1 (Christopher Plummer) resembles a bishop or some other high-church party official. He tries to hold the others in check with promises of evils that will befall them if they don’t listen to him. There’s a hint of satire or sociological critique here, but it goes nowhere. One of the characters—presumably made out of striped pillow ticking—resembles a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, but nothing is made of this. There’s a bond of apparent subtext-worthy depth between No. 5 (John C. Reilly) and No. 2 (Martin Landau), and again it just lies there undeveloped. The sense of the more interesting movie that might have been is frustrating.

What we’re left with—apart from a slightly jarring scene involving a gramophone and Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that feels like it belongs in another movie—are rag dolls fighting horrific machines. It is visually striking. It’s very often creepy. (Be warned, this film is not meant for small children. There’s a reason for that PG-13 rating.) But in the end, 9 is just not much of anything else. Rated PG-13 for violence and scary images.

SHARE
About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

11 thoughts on “9

  1. Dread P. Roberts

    I felt like I was watching a video game (more-so than most video game movie adaptations). Lots of glorious animated action, but not a lot of substance. Plus, the ending felt pointlessly grim to me. I wouldn’t say depressing, since I didn’t care enough to be depressed. But nothing really felt resolved in a way that would create any sort of positive future progression. We see some robotic sock puppets die, they kill some cool, menacing robot overlords, the end. If one is going to put forth a post-apocalyptic setting, there should be more of a positive resolution. Not just a self-delusioned Elijah Wood telling us that everything is eventually going to be Ok.

    On a more positive note, the robot fighting action makes the last Terminator flick look pitiful in comparison. (And yes, I compared the two, and I don’t care if that sounds silly.)

  2. Ken Hanke

    If one is going to put forth a post-apocalyptic setting, there should be more of a positive resolution. Not just a self-delusioned Elijah Wood telling us that everything is eventually going to be Ok.

    Not to defend the film, but I think it thinks it does this by suggesting microscopic organisms in the drops of rain.

    On a more positive note, the robot fighting action makes the last Terminator flick look pitiful in comparison. (And yes, I compared the two, and I don’t care if that sounds silly.)

    Actually, someone in my viewing party — it might have been the poster known as Tonberry, who I think joined us that night — made much the same observation. I wouldn’t argue it. There was genuine menace here that was totally lacking in Terminator Salvation.

  3. Sean Moorhead

    I’m ashamed to admit that I had high hopes for this one. But what can I say? I’m a sucker for crypto-Deist ragdoll post-apocalyptic science-fantasy.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I’m a sucker for crypto-Deist ragdoll post-apocalyptic science-fantasy.

    And I’ll be the first to say, you won’t see a finer example of that genre this year.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Is Christopher Plummer the new go-to-guy for CG flicks? I’m basing this entirely on 9 and UP.

    We’ll have to see if it’s a trend or a fluke. Plummer is one of those actors — Frank Langella is another — that I find more appealing and interesting as he gets older.

  6. Plummer is one of those actors—Frank Langella is another—that I find more appealing and interesting as he gets older
    I’m with you there. My favourite Langella performances have been in the last ten years – things like GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK and FROST/NIXON. A million miles away from his stabs at Dracula and Sherlock Holmes in his younger years.

  7. Tonberry

    Actually, someone in my viewing party—it might have been the poster known as Tonberry, who I think joined us that night—made much the same observation.

    I didn’t make that comment, but I agreed as soon as I heard my friend call it.

    Oh “9,” how I was ready to love you with open arms and how you failed to reach. To watch “9” is like watching a dog play fetch for over an hour.

  8. D4

    If the opening reminds you of Coraline, that’s probably because it looks almost identical to it. Even granting that if you’ve seen one post-apocalyptic landscape you’ve seen them all, the one here—and the flashbacks to the destruction of the world—owes more than a little to Hugh Harman’s 1939 cartoon Peace on Earth. (Funny thing is there’s nothing as chilling in 9 as the battle scenes in that 70-year-old cartoon.) One of the perils that besets our heroes in 9 is a dead ringer for the Christmas-tree-eating toy snake in Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Quite the oddest borrowings, however, come from the soul-sucking monster machine and the ultimate image of what becomes of these souls. If this doesn’t look familiar, you haven’t seen Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985).

    I don’t really find this very useful at all for a review. All you are doing is forcing some of the stylistic elements that Acker made to fit into pieces of previous movies. You can do that with absolutely anything if you stretch it enough, and I think that in most cases, your comparisons don’t really add up.
    Plus saying 9 borrowed ideas from coraline and nightmare before christmas? That’s like saying Cinderella Man stole from Rocky or every single disney cartoon borrowed elements from the others. The movies are all in the same genre, of course there are going to be similarities.
    I agree that the story could have went much deeper, but if you went into 9 expecting an emotional rollercoaster that would bring you to tears based off the relationship of the characters then you went to the wrong movie. Just go see Corpse Bride or Coraline if you want to be charmed.

  9. Ken Hanke

    I don’t really find this very useful at all for a review. All you are doing is forcing some of the stylistic elements that Acker made to fit into pieces of previous movies.

    I’d more say I was pegging elements of previous movies that Acker appears to have fit into his. And they are not entirely stylistic elements, either, though that may be irrelevant to you, even if it is to me.

    Plus saying 9 borrowed ideas from coraline and nightmare before christmas? That’s like saying Cinderella Man stole from Rocky or every single disney cartoon borrowed elements from the others. The movies are all in the same genre, of course there are going to be similarities.

    Yes and no. First of all, 9 and Nightmare Before Xmas are not in the same genre. Moreover, the fact that Burton is a producer on 9 makes the comparison inevitable (even granting that producer is perhaps the most elastic term in film). Similarly, Cinderella Man and Rocky aren’t really the same genre either. One is a biopic and the other is pure fiction. That they both deal with boxing in but one aspect.

    I agree that the story could have went much deeper, but if you went into 9 expecting an emotional rollercoaster that would bring you to tears based off the relationship of the characters then you went to the wrong movie. Just go see Corpse Bride or Coraline if you want to be charmed.

    Yes, the story could have gone deeper, that’s for sure. I didn’t, however, go in expecting an emotional roller coaster, but for the film to work, it needed some kind of emotional connection to the viewer. Instead, we got characters I didn’t give a damn about, so what’s left? Ragdolls fighting machines. I really don’t think that was the intent of the film. It’s pretty evident that we’re meant to have some kind of emotional response to these characters. In point of fact, this almost exactly the same problem I have with Coraline, though that strikes me as a much better film, if for no other reason than it’s not stuck in one tone. And, in my book at least, being charmed is not the same thing as having some emotional connection to the characters.

  10. Thank you for referencing Tobe Hooper’s film LIFEFORCE in this article. I am a huge fan of Hooper’s films and LIFEFORCE happens to be one of those wonderful gems of a lost art that filmmakers like Shane Acker nowadays seem to be ripping off in a lesser fashion (although Peter Jackson and Alex Proyas seem to pay affectionate homage to it and Hooper’s other work), while also being a criminally undervalued and, tragically, forgotten film more than two decades after its release (it actually came out the year I was born, which is probably another reason why it happens to be on my favorites list). That, and the fact that it looks far more solid, consistent, philosophical and audacious in stark contrast to films like 9 only makes it a better viewing experience. Doesn’t it bother you when something comes out claiming to be or being hyped as original, when in fact the idea has been used before in a way that is far more ingenious yet horribly overlooked?

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.