Review by Robert Mann.
2009 is turning out to be a very big year for the number 9. We’ve already had the South African made science fiction sleeper hit District 9 and now comes 9 with another film called Nine to follow in the not too distant future. Confused? You should be. Because while 9 and Nine both share what is essentially the same film title, only one is presented in its numerical form and the other in its word form, the two films couldn’t be much more different from one another. So, to make sure you see the right film you should pay attention. Nine (as a word) is a musical about the life of Italian film director Guido Contini based on the 1982 Broadway musical with a book by playwright Arthur Kopit, who based his story on an Italian play by Mario Fratti which itself was inspired by Italian director Federico Fellini’s autobiographical film 8½. That film is out in November. 9, on the other hand, is an animated film by newcomer director Shane Acker who, with help from producers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov, turned his Oscar nominated 2005 short film of the same name into a feature length (but at only 79 minutes still quite short) movie. This film, which I am reviewing now, is a science fiction film set in a post apocalyptic world where humanity has been wiped out that revolves around a group of sack dolls who are trying to survive while being hunted by machines determined to wipe them out. See, couldn’t be much more different to that other film could it. 9, which has already been released in America to an okay but unspectacular box office performance, has been receiving considerable acclaim for its visuals and uniqueness but hasn’t been faring as well in other areas. So, unlike the short film which inspired it, it is highly unlikely that any Oscars will be coming its way.
9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) is a sack doll brought to life by a scientist shortly before humanity is wiped out by machines. When 9 first awakens he finds himself in a post apocalyptic world. All the humans are gone, and it is only by chance that he discovers a small community of others like him – including 1 (voiced by Christopher Plummer), a domineering war veteran; 2 (voiced by Martin Landau), an aged inventor; 5 (voiced by John C. Reilly), a stalwart mechanic; 6 (voiced by Crispin Glover), a visionary and artist; and 7 (voiced by Jennifer Connelly), a brave warrior – taking refuge from the fearsome machines that roam the earth intent on their destruction. Despite being the group’s newcomer, 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.
There is one are in which 9 manages to stand out – the visuals. In this department, while the animation is certainly not up to the standard of anything from the major animation studios, the film manages to create a look that is bold, distinctive and unique, and this regard it successfully manages to set itself apart from other computer animated features. Director Shane Acker has done a good job at crafting a nightmarish post apocalyptic world filled with terrifying machines (some of which clearly owe a lot design wise to the Tripods from War of the Worlds) and creates a suitably dark and sinister mood throughout, something that should be taken into account as this is most definitely NOT an animated film for kids. This proves to be both a good and a bad thing, however, as the mood is so dark that you will likely be desperate for some lightness to balance the darkness. A bit of humour could have worked wonders. Nonetheless, though, Acker delivers some suitably chilling sequences, one of particular note involving the rising of a machine out of a sea of mist as a recording of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ plays in the background.
This scene is brilliantly creepy and shows that Acker does indeed have visual prowess, as do a number of other sequences including a scene involving news reel style footage that fills in the background to the story, footage that feels like a throwback to the style of 50s B movies. It’s just a shame that Acker’s prowess in the visual department isn’t also present in other areas. While the film may look good it suffers from poor dialogue, a big name voice cast that brings little and a storyline that is woefully insufficient for a full length feature, the film feeling long even at a slim 79 minutes. So, long story short, this is a film that may well have worked as a short but doesn’t really cut it as a feature. So, while 9 is a film that undeniably has strong points it doesn’t grip enough to be really worth the trip to your cinema.
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