9 – Fantasy Film Review

The feature film version of 9 – expanded from Shane Acker’s earlier short subject – is one of the most amazing visual experiences you will enjoy inside a cinema this year – for about the first ten minutes. Acker immediately introduces you to – and immerses you in – an imaginative fantasy world – dark, depressing, and dangerous. After that, ennui rapidly sets in as the screenplay stumbles about in search of a coherent story to take place in this world, and the film winds up being a major disappointment, inferior to the source material and unable to live up to the promise of its own coming attractions trailer.
The problem is not so hard to identify. Much as I hate to go old school on a film that strives mightily to offer an innovative vision, the simple fact is the 9 fails in all the areas they teach you about in Writing 101: plot, characterization, structure. Most importantly, the script never does a good job of establishing what, exactly, is at stake for the inhabitants of this post-apocalyptic future. The little burlap androids are menaced by a robotic predator that has taken some of their comrades, but it is not clear that defeating the monster is going to lead to a new and better life for the survivors, and as the body count rises, one inevitably wonders whether their quest is worth the effort.
As befits a film whose title character is simply “9,” there is little personality given to the humanoids. The one-note characterizations include cowardly and courageous, and there is little to distinguish #9 himself except that he is voiced by Elijah Wood. There is no development or shading, not even a surprising facet that emerges during the course of the story.  The failing here is most obvious in the case of Christopher Plummer’s #1: In the trailer, when you hear him say that sometimes “fear is the appropriate response,” it packs a wallop because it sounds  out of character, and you wonder what could have driven him to panic. In the film, #1 is simply afraid from start to finish, so his line of dialogue, far from a disturbing change of pace, is a piece of ho-hum expectedness.
Thankfully the computer animation is beautiful. The backdrops are impressively rendered, offering a memorable vision of a blasted world, all dilapidated buildings and refuse. The 9 burlap humanoids have something vulnerable and pathetic about their appearance that inspires sympathy, even if their personalities do not. (They also recall the wide-eye loser of MORE, writer-director Mark Osbourne’s excellent 1998 stop-motion short subject.)
It is altogether unfortunate that this wonderful vision is put in service of a slim storyline that is little more than a fragmented series of vignettes adding up to less than the sum of their parts. 9 looks like one of the great fantasy movies of all time but looks, as they say, can be deceiving. Perhaps too often we hear critics carping about great production values wasted on weak writing, but in this case the cliche is all too true. 
9 (2009). Directed by Shane Acker. Screenplay by Pamela Pettler, story by Shane Acker. Voices: Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Alan Oppenheimer, Tom Kane, Helen Wilson

9 opens on 9/9/09 – Watch the Trailer

Here is the trailer for 9, the new animated feature film produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov, and directed by Shane Acker. Not to get too carried away, it looks absolutely awesome, immediately jumping to the top of the “Must See” list for 2009  (although, curiously, the look of the characters is less suggestive of Burton’s NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS than of the IMAX stop-motion short subject MORE). The script was written by Pamela Pettler (“Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, Monster House), based on Acker’s short subject, which is available on YouTube. Danny Elfman provides the music. Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau, Christopher Plummer, John C. Reilly, and Crispin Glover provide the voices. Focus Features opens the film nationwide on September 9.
At the official website you can get information to send a text message and receive a response from acker and Bekmambetov, plus an exclusive scene from the film.
Read the official synopsis below:

When 9 (The Lord of the Ring’s Elijah Wood) first comes to life, he finds himself in a post-apocalyptic world. All humans are gone, and it is only by chance that he discovers a small community of others like him taking refuge from fearsome machines that roam the earth intent on their extinction. Despite being the neophyte of the group, 9 convinces the others that hiding will do them no good. They must take the offensive if they are to survive, and they must discover why the machines want to destroy them in the first place. As they’ll soon come to learn, the very future of civilization may depend on them.