Shane Acker’s 9, a nearly feature-length (79 minutes) version of his experimental short film is a truly a wonder to behold. Set in a seemingly alternate reality in which World War II is combined with elements of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds with a touch of The Terminator thrown in for good measure, the film is visual knock out. With its post-apocalyptic vision of the world, in which ragamuffin creatures go toe-to-toe with machines that have achieved consciousness, is a kaleidoscope run amok. Scenes of cities in ruins, belching ominous factories, raging dinosaur machines and the movie’s heroes, odd little constructs of burlap, metal and binoculars will have animation buffs on the edge of their seats and will likely suck in the regular viewer as well.
However, while the pictures are, if not pretty, at the very least engaging, the story has a slapped-together, borrowed feel to it that prevents the film from succeeding completely. As mentioned above, Acker’s script borrows from history as well as pop culture while straining to achieve a Lord of the Rings type epic feel. It falls short simply because the ideas are hardly neither distinctive nor original, giving the story a “been-there-done-that” feel even though the animation is cutting-edge stuff.
9 (voice by Elijah Wood) is brought to life and finds a world that has been left to waste. However, he soon finds others much like himself, among them 2 (Martin Landau), an inquisitive creature that is soon taken away by a roving mechanical monster while trying to help his new friend. Soon, 9 is taken in by the timid 5 (John C. Reilly), who introduces him to 1 (Christopher Plummer), the leader of these ragged survivors who advises his followers to lay low until the fighting is over and the monsters have gone away. However, 9 and 5 ignore this advice, set out into the “emptiness” in an effort to rescue 2. It winds up being a journey of mixed results as they also meet up with 7 (Jennifer Connelly), a ninja warrior who kicks ass when the others can’t and the mute twins 3 and 4, who have spent their life cataloging things and recording history.
9 inadvertently activates, “the Machine,” the ultimate construct who built other machines that were used to conquer man. Of course, our heroes set out to destroy this robot and along the way, the story’s predictable nature exposes itself and it all becomes a bit plodding, despite the film’s short running time.
While the film’s narrative borrows from many sources, its dark color palette brings to mind this year’s Coraline, a far better foray into animated alternate realities. There was a bit of edge and humor to that film’s tone that made it simultaneously funny and dreadful, which bolstered its distinctive visuals. Also, the fact that it was in 3-D seemed to inspire director Henry Selleck to integrate that process into the story without distracting from it. I’m not sure if Acker could have pulled off the say feat, but as my mind wandered away from 9’s story, I couldn’t help but wonder if it might have been more engaging had it had employed the 3-D approach as well. As it is, the film sports a unique aesthetic that’s ultimately undercut by its derivative narrative.
9 opens today and is playing at the Beverly and Savoy cinemas.
Runtime: 1h 19min — Rated PG-13 — Animation