by Mel Valentin
Following the inexhaustible trend in post-apocalyptic cinema begun three years ago with the adaptation of P.D. James’ 1992 novel, "Children of Men," the adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, "I Am Legend a year later, Pixar’s kinder, gentler take on the genre, "Wall-E" last year, "Terminator: Salvation" earlier this year, and, in the next few months, the highly anticipated adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2006 novel, "The Road," and the less-anticipated "The Book of Eli." Before then, however, moviegoers will get the opportunity to venture into another post-apocalyptic world, "9," a computer animated science-fiction/fantasy directed by Shane Acker, a first-time filmmaker who expanded his Academy Award nominated short with the help of co-producers Tim Burton (the forthcoming "Alice in Wonderland," "Sweeney Todd," "Sleepy Hollow," "Ed Wood," "Batman Returns," "Edward Scissorhands," "Batman") and Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted," "Day Watch," "Night Watch").Into a post-apocalyptic world, 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood), a ragdoll awakens in a makeshift lab, the last creative act of a dead scientist. Initially incapable of speech (a nod to the short), 9 leaves the lab for the battle-scarred ruins outside. Before he can get far, he encounters another ragdoll, number 2 (Martin Landau), a scientist who promptly befriends 9 and crafts a working voicebox for 9 from a discarded doll’s head. Almost immediately, a cat-skulled machine-predator (dubbed the “Cat Beast” in the press notes) attacks 2 and 9, kidnaps 2, and heads for an abandoned factory located across a barren landscape. The technologically savvy 5 (John C. Reilly) rescues 9 and takes him to a bombed-out church that the ragdolls have made their home. The nominal leader, the suspicious, cautious 1 (Christopher Plummer), sees 9's presence as the harbinger for trouble (he's right, actually). The church is also home to 6 (Crispin Glover), an artistic ragdoll prone to constant doodling and gnomic pronouncements, and 3 and 4, silent information-cataloguing twins.
"A brilliantly conceived post-apocalyptic world (but not much else)."
8 (Fred Tatasciore), 1’s burly bodyguard, briefly keeps the authority-challenging 9 in check, but 9 convinces 5 to leave the sanctuary of the church and venture across the forbidding wastes to save 2 from the Cat Beast During another encounter with the Cat Beast, 7 (Jennifer Connelly), an outcast and warrior, arrives in time to help 9, 5, and 2. 9, however, inadvertently awakens the Great Machine, a long-dormant sentient machine capable of creating other machines from the detritus of the post-apocalyptic world. The Great Machine’s bone-and-metal death-bots, one shaped like a pterodactyl, another resembling a snake, pose increasing dangers to 9 and the other ragdolls. From there, 9 devolves into a series of well choreographed, if over-elaborate set pieces, each one calculated to create the obligatory wonder and awe for audiences, but closely mimicking the “bosses” videogame players have to defeat to reach the next level.
Given 9’s origin as an 11-minute short, it’s not surprising that 9 stumbles so badly and so often. 9 briefly delves into the pre-apocalyptic rise of the machines and the fall of mankind,, but the answers Acker and his screenwriting partner, Pamela Pettler (Monster House, Corpse Bride), are unsatisfying (at best) and nonsensical (at worst). It’s obvious from the backstory that involves a fascist dictator, the dead scientist, and the Great Machine (not to mention a head-scratching denouement that shifts [9 from science fiction to dark fantasy) that Acker and Pettler focused first on visualizing the post-apocalyptic world, developing the characters second (and even then, only as a superficial bundle of traits and tics), and obviously spent the least amount of time working out coherent, internally consistent story.It’s in the world Acker and his animators created, however, that "9" stands out. Acker has admitted in interviews to being influenced by the work of stop-motion animators the Brothers Quay and Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer. Acker borrowed a “scrapheap aesthetic” (he’d probably prefer the newly coined term “stitchpunk,” however) from the Brothers Quay and Švankmajer, an aesthetic that’s perfectly suited for an exhausted, post-apocalyptic world where the end of the war between humans and machines also signaled the end of the new. The ragdolls survive not just by finding useful objects, but also by using their ingenuity to make formerly useless objects useful again. Unfortunately, a fully realized world isn’t enough to recommend "9" for curious moviegoers. Parents of small children are advised to skip "9" for more age-appropriate fare.
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originally posted: 09/09/09 18:55:17