Elijah Wood (9), Christopher Plummer (1), Jennifer Connelly (7), John C. Reilly (5), Crispin Glover (6), Fred Tatasciore (8), Martin Landau (2)
"We had such, potential. Such promise. BUt we squandered our gifts, our intelligence. Our blind pursuit of technology only sped us quicker to our doom. Our world is ending but life must go on." - Opening narration
I'm always interested to see how animated movies handle the subject of The Apocalypse. Whether it be Rock & Rule's use of an apocalyptic event as a simple backdrop to the darker ways in which films like When the Wind Blows or Barefoot Gen use animation to tell a cautionary tale about nuclear war to a younger audience.
9 uses its apocalyptic event as backdrop, cautionary tale, and the setting of a mystery. When we first meet 9, the little burlap sack robot that serves as our protagonist, he is dropped to the floor of a laboratory of some sort with a small talisman-like object. There's a dead scientist lying on the floor amongst a scattering of papers and the lab is in a bombed-out building in the ruins of a war-torn city. What is 9? Why was he created, and what catastrophic event happened prior to his creating? This is the set-up of a great adventure and while 9 is a stylistic and imaginitive movie, it unfortunately never lives up to its great potential.
Following 9's awakening he meets up with 2 (Martin Landau), who gives 9 a voice-box so that he can finally speak. Shortly thereafter, a horrific robot made out of various sharp bits of metal and a cat skeleton steals 2 away along with 9's talisman.
9 is discovered by 5 (John C. Reilly) who introduces him to 1 (Christopher Plummer) and 8 (Fred Tatasciore). 1 explains that they and the cat/robot (called "The Beast") are the only survivors of an apocalyptic war that killed off all of humanity and most of the machines. His grand plan is to keep hidden and wait for The Beast to die.
9 convinces 5 that they need to go to rescue 2, they sneak away to a munitions factory where The Beast is attempting to stick the talisman in an old machine. The Machine is sort of retro-futuristic super computer developed in the pre-apocalyptic era to make weapons of war for the Nazi-esque military regime that once ruled the country. The Machine rebelled on its makers and turned its army of killer robots against humanity, releasing a poison gas that killed off everyone on Earth save the sack-bots. Presumably The Machine and its creation have a finite power supply that has run out and the only way for it to replenish is to suck the souls out of the sack-bots using 9s talisman.
I'm torn on the visuals of 9. I very much like World War 1-esque retro-futuristic style of the film but the animation is very primitive for 2009. I realize that some of the animations fakey-looking style but many of the movements (especially involving any human character) look to be about the same quality of the cut-scenes from the first Fallout.
The sack-bots all have very distinct designs that complement their personalities as well as distinguish them from one-another. Everyone has a unique silhouette which is very important for action scenes, where it would be very easy to confuse characters for one-another.
Similarly one of the film's greatest strengths are in the grotesque mechanical monsters that serve as the film's antagonists. Each of the machine's creations incorporate sharp bits of metal with an animal design and either bones or doll parts which makes them all horrific to look at. Even The Machine itself, with its spider-like limbs and large hate-filled red eye cuts a menacing figure as the film's main villain.
The voice cast does well with what they have but unfortunately the movie doesn't have a whole lot for them to do. John C. Reilly really shines as 5 and Jennifer Connelly brings a lot of life to 7, easily the most enjoyable character of the whole film. But actors like Martin Landau and Crispin Glover are wasted on characters that don't get a whole lot to do. Christopher Plummer gets the meatiest role as 1 has a lot of lines, maybe even more than 9 himself.
I must also make known that the movie does one of my pet peeves. There are 9 robots, but 3 and 4 are non-vocal (they don't even have voice actors) and are identical twins. I hate this sort of choice to pad out an ensemble. These characters are somewhat charming but that doesn't detract that when the writer went to create 9 characters they created half a character and then stretched it out into two.
Back on the visual front I do wish to complement the film on its excellent action beats. They are one aspect of this film that works very well. 9 makes use of its protagonists' diminutive size to make big action beats in small spaces and these visual effects are among the best in the movie.
Unfortunately 9 falls apart on the narrative front. The characters don't add up to much as far as story goes and the resolution of the plot in regards to defeating The Machine, the purpose of the talisman, and why 9 and his siblings were created is a very underwhelming and half-cooked resolution to a story that never seems to find its groove.
9 is mostly nice to look at but as a story it just doesn't have enough stakes to make it worth revisiting and the ending, while meant to be hopeful, is just a big shrug. I wanted to like this movie when I saw it in the theater and I wanted to like it on revisit but 9 is just a story with no hook.
The original short film of 9, created by the feature film's director Shane Acker, is barely a story and more of a proof of concept. It has a narrative and many of the beats are reproduced in the full film but it's mostly about two non-speaking sack-bots being terrorized by an early version of The Beast who took trophies of its kills by wearing the burlap skins of the sack-bots it has already caught.
9 effectively tells the same story as its feature-length brother but the details are left more nebulous due to the film's lack of any actors to explain anything. It's more of a visual experience, which is fine but unfortunately when the film was adapted to long form nobody managed to write a plot worthy of the design.
I really don't think anyone needs to see the 9 short film. It's interesting from a design standpoint and not bad but there's nothing terribly compelling about it. It's essentially just the long-form film but painted more broadly. It's only really worth a check if you're interested and it's on the home video release of the main film if you're interested in catching it in a better resolution than Youtube.
Next Time on Doomsday Reels
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