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Sep102009

9's beauty triumphs, despite its mechanical plot (Review)

9 is one of the most entrancingly beautiful films I’ve ever seen. Sadly, its story fails to match its style. It turns into a shock-then-run action film, where friends are continually surprised by enemies, then must run for their lives. Despite this mechanical plot, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

I sat in the front of the theater to see 9, which comes from the mind of Shane Acker, and is based on a short film he made in 2006. I don’t usually sit near the front, but it was fitting. The opening scenes of 9 and its setting are Burton-esque in their oddity and innocent wonder, though Burton himself hasn’t directed a film this viscerally immersive in a long time.

In the opening scene, a small mechanical doll come to life. He’s only about half a foot tall (15cm) with a sort of potato sack skin stitched around his mechanical body and the number 9 on his back. His eyes look like two cameras with shutters showing an impressive range of anger and fear and wonder. He awakes in an abandoned and foreboding house with a giant dead, decaying old man lying on the floor. The world looks and feels lifeless, making the mechanical doll seem all the more human-like.

#9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) is a quick learner. He’s born knowing how to speak and has some basic survival skills and quickly heads outside, where he meets others of his kind and his adventure begins.

The story never quite realizes the incredible potential of its setting and some of its early scenes. Soon #9, and those like him—he is numbered for a reason—are hunted by red-eyed robots. When they defeat one, there always seems to be another, more deadly red-eyed robot to follow it. Characters are captured over and over and other characters (usually #9) must adventure out and rescue them. Action scenes are padded by a couple lines of dialogue and regrouping, but the next startling situation, chase, and battle is never far off. Acker is impatient, as shown by the short 79 minute runtime.

The characters themselves are rather flat. #1 is the fearful leader, #8 is the big brute, #7 is the strong heroine, #3 & #4 are mute innocents, #5 is the reluctant right-hand man, #6 is the crazy prophetic guy, and #9 is our hero. (Too much? Here’s a simple breakdown of the characters.) None of them ever diverge from their mold and show depth. Still, they have created some fun gadgets. The twins, in particular, love to catalog information and have a fancy little elevator to help them travel through their library of books. I wish Acker would have shown more of their creative thoughts. Instead, they spend their time running and hiding. These creatures have been the only living things in the world for years. They don’t seem to sleep or eat. Yet they don’t seem curious about their own origins.

Still, even with flat characters and more action than story, 9 is worth experiencing, if only for its beauty. I kept hoping it would transcend, but I can’t say I didnt’ enjoy the ride. Shane Acker has some fantastic ideas and a powerful vision. He may not have made a masterpiece his first time through (9 is based on a short film he made in 2006), but he wasn’t far off.

Score: 3.5 out of 5 evil red-eyed robots

(See it on the big screen. It’s gorgeous. The plot won’t blow your mind, but has some creative ideas under the surface.)

P.S. Here’s the Original Short Film



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