CAPSULE: In the short film of the same title, a world ravaged by the vicious robots built by a fascist dictator, several small mute homunculi, each numbered, battle to survive. The Oscar-nominated ten-minute film is stretched to feature length. There are lots of fights and the story a little bit extended with more plot. Also voices of good actors are added to the formerly mute homunculi. But what worked in the shorter form is not as impressive as a 79-minute film. The film is unusual and visually striking but not really special as an animated feature film. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
[This is not to be confused with the film NINE.]
The doll-like homunculus 9 finds himself in a post-apocalyptic world laid waste by evil robots. He befriends another homunculus like himself named 2, and when 2 is captured by a robot 9 decides to rescue his friend. 9 leads a revolt of doll-people against the machines. On the way he will learn about what brought the world to this sorry condition.
When Shane Acker released his mysterious short film "9" it had an impressive impact and was even nominated for an Academy Award for animation. It featured a mysterious little mute doll-robot or homunculus with no name but the number 9. He lived in a ravaged, post-holocaust version of our world. 9 and his fellows, each roughly six inches tall, seemed not made of metal and silicon like the robots outside but of soft materials like burlap cloth and even a zipper. This was a little pliable thing in a world destroyed by hard machines with sharp edges--mechanisms of metal and bone. The short film was a calling card and it bought Acker an opportunity to expand a ten-minute project into a feature-length film. But the perfect length for this story and these mute characters is ten minutes.
The short film version just had to create the imagery and to tell a very short story. A feature film required a more complete and complex story. The mysteries of the short film had to be solved for the viewer. The characters that in the shorter version got most of their power from facial expression without sound. For the feature they were given voices of familiar actors. Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau gave voices to the characters. But this made them less effective and not more.
The feature really needed to be a story as good as the images it created. Acker faced the problem that after a few minutes the novelty of the visuals would wear off and the story would have to carry the viewer. Pamela Pettler extended Acker's story by having more fighting with more evil robots and by spelling out a whole political back-story. The mystical whatever-it-is that happens in the short film happens in the longer one, but that part remains mystical.
Disturbingly, one can easily tell whether a doll, an animal, or a machine is friendly or not. Evil robots have one big red eye or many little red spiderlike eyes. They have sharp claws. If it looks ugly it is bad and if it look pleasant it is good. This is the same convention that Disney animation films have followed for a long time. And that studio has been teaching children to use that same criteria in real life, where it might not be so good an idea.
There is a lot that is interesting to see in the world created by Shane Acker but not enough to make the feature film satisfying. The story is somehow similar to that of THE DARK CRYSTAL, but with less complexity. The feel of the story is also somehow reminiscent of the stories of science fiction writer Clifford Simak. One might have some idea of what was coming considering that among the producers were Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov. The latter directed NIGHT WATCH, DAY WATCH, and WANTED. It is not a bad animated feature, but in the general run of animated films these days the word for it disappointingly is "unexceptional." I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0472033/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1205483_nine/
Original short film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=964QHmjLqa0
Mark R. Leeper email@example.com Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper