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Non-Review Review: 9

9 looks absolutely lovely, with a heavily stylised computer-generated style that seems intended to evoke the macabre stop-motion style of films like The Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride, along with more traditional and conventional animation. However, as magical as the production on the animated feature might be, the movie – somewhat ironically given the way things work out – lacks soul.

A rag-tag bunch...

I can’t help but feel that more could have been made of the plot. After all, it isn’t everyday that you get to see a bunch of ragdolls running around a post-apocalyptic wasteland. However, absolutely everything seems to be have been constructed “by the numbers.”  The apocalypse was the product of evil machines, just like any number of other “after the end” science-fiction tales from The Terminator to The Matrix and beyond. It’s an old storytelling trope, and can be a springboard to any number of clever concepts, but 9 fails to take advantage of it.

Instead, the movie follows the attempts by the dolls to survive in a wasteland patrolled by sinister machines, while the movie hints and suggests what might have led to the machine revolt and the extinction of mankind. The problem is that there’s no revelation there – there’s no pay-off. Anybody, adult or child, who has seen any “science-gone-awry”movie knows the outcome of the movie, and the key point: we can’t blame the machines that exterminated us, because it was us who built them (imperfectly or too perfectly, depending on the film’s cynicism).

All dolled up...

There is, in fairness to the film, a rather interesting plot point about the nature the nine ragdolls running around, each conforming to a particular archetype (“the leader”, “the explorer”, “the artist”, “the warrior”), and I don’t want to spoil it here. More should have been made of it, because it’s an interesting idea – though the ethical dilemmas arising from it aren’t even broached by the film. Instead, what should be a fascinating final revelation ends up being treated as pseudo-exposition that doesn’t make a difference either way.

It’s a damn shame, because the film looksstunning. It’s really beautiful. It’s not a technical thing – because the CGI isn’t groundbreaking or anything like that – but rather the care and affection put into the design of the film. It looks creepy and horrifying, like the end of the world should look, but it’s also interesting enough to look good despite the dull and muted colours. In particular, certain elements of the film are genuinely macabre, to the point where I worry that younger children might be a bit disturbed by it. After all, at one point, an evil snake creature has its head crushed in some mechanical cogs – it’s not quite your conventional family film.

Not a glowing review...

Director Shane Acker has assembled a superb voice cast with any number of recognisable names – Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connolly and Crispen Glover amongst others. However, it seems like most of them are disconnected from the film. There’s no sense of magic or peril in most of the performances (Reilly’s is especially weak), demonstrating that voice acting isn’t as easy as it might seem. Plummer and Glover do significantly better, if only because their voices seem perfectly modelled to the characters. Plummer’s voice is impressive and commanding, and Glover always seems a little flighty and eccentric.

Somewhat appropriately given the setting, but no less disappointingly, 9 seems like quite a lifeless little film.

5 Responses

  1. Very, very dark for an animated film but I liked it for that approach and the way the animation looked so good. Now, here’s a film that would have done well in 3-D. Good Review Man!

  2. I think my problem with this is that Acker comes from a Lord of the Rings background and it shows, painfully and far too much, in how he conducts some sequences– the opening scene, with the “monster leaping out from behind a solid surface and roaring” cut, recalls the fight with the ogre in Fellowship almost visually verbatim– and in how he designs some of his characters and monsters. I get where it’s coming from of course, but it’s a distraction from a movie that’s already kind of hollow.

  3. People make fun of Lord of the Rings for being just “back and forth” but Acker must have had nothing to elaborate upon the story. How many journeys did we need to see from the hideout to the lab?

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