While the animated doomsday fantasy 9 bears Tim Burton's unmistakable visual influence, it's too bad he only produced and didn't direct it. Shane Acker's acclaimed student film may have been nominated for an Oscar, but his expansion of the premise reveals Acker has a way to go before he develops into a successful feature filmmaker.
9 opens in the aftermath of humanity's apparent extinction. An apocalyptic battle with giant, intelligent machines has left the world a lifeless disaster field. However, a number of small, hand-made creatures have been miraculously imbued with life and now scavenge among the ruins, searching for useful items as well as answers to questions they have about their existence.
The newest and in many ways smartest of them is 9 (the doll-like creatures don't have names, only numbers designating the order in which they were created). 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) lets his curiosity get the best of him and accidentally re-awakens the sinister machines. The tiny, disorganized gang must quickly take them on to prevent their own destruction.
An all-star voice cast includes John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau and Crispin Glover in addition to Wood. The only vocal performance among them of any distinction, though, is Christopher Plummer as the imperious 1. The voice characterizations should be more significant, since several of the creatures look alike and it can be hard to tell who's-who when their backs are turned and we can't see their identifying numbers.
9's disturbing apocalyptic setting and CG animation (both too intense for children younger than 10) are its strong points. Acker based the film's look on the bombed-out cities of World War II and this gives it a striking historical resonance. The design of the machines seems effectively inspired by such previous humanity-hating sci-fi epics as The Matrix trilogy and War of the Worlds.
Much of the action in 9 becomes repetitive, and the storyline (by Acker, with screenplay by Pamela Pettler) takes an odd turn toward the metaphysical in the final act. While this could and should have been interesting, it is handled in a superficial and — in the end — laughably over-the-top manner.
Despite failing to hit a home run artistically with his first feature, Acker remains a talent to watch. Hopefully, his future efforts will better establish his style and hone his storytelling ability.
UPDATE: 9 is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.