Tuesday, May 1, 2012

9 (2009) Review

9 (2009)
Not Quite out of 10

Don’t you love it when studios and writers try to exploit a date, holiday, year, or random number just to create some mild buzz with their numerical connections? Friday the 13th is pretty self-explanatory, as is every other horror movie that is named after a holiday. The Omen remake was released on 6-6-06 just to capitalize on the whole number of the devil thing. It’s like the studios set a timer to specifically crank out that movie at that exact time. And now we have 9 to contend with. The funny thing about 9 though is that not only was it released on 9-9-09, but there are also multiple other nine related movies being released or have been released. Come this winter, we will see the release of the musical entitled Nine, which is being pushed out then in order to drive up the Oscar buzz. And this summer we saw District 9 released to tremendous praise for its originality and message-driven story during a time of dumb blockbusters (you know which ones). 9 seems to have a similar kind of buzz going for it that District 9 had. Many people are going in for its imaginative visual style and are hoping for something different that we haven’t seen before. It is imaginative for sure, but what else does it have going for it?

Plot Synopsis: Within an unknown place and time frame, #9 (a stitched together doll) comes to life and stumbles upon the body of his creator. As he scours the room, he finds a mysterious talisman and leaves to venture into the deserted and ravaged world. During his prowl, he comes across #2, who saves #9 from a cat-like machine roaming the wasteland and is taken captive in the process. #9 eventually crosses paths with the rest of the dolls, who are ruled by the protective #1. #9 wishes to save #2 from the beast before its too late, but #1 insists that everyone must stick together so that they can ensure their group survival. #9 ignores his orders and goes off on his search along with #5, who also wishes to save #2. When they find him though, #9 inadvertently awakens an even greater monster that poses a threat to not only the doll community, but any chance of finding a way to stop the machine force.


9 is one of those movies that I truly tried to love and appreciate, but ended up being disappointed at so many turns. I really want to say that it was passable entertainment; however I have to come out on this one. 9 frustrated me on so many levels that the novelty of being an original property driven by a vision rather than a studio-mandated sequel is severely diminished. It is a shame, because first time director Shane Acker has quite a vision and style for this post-apocalyptic tale. Acker expanded 9 from his Oscar-nominated short film of the same name, and preserved the same art style but with a higher level of polish. Billed as “stitch punk”, the visual design of the movie is unique in its conception and execution, brought to vivid life thanks to the producing double-team of Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd) and Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted). Think of as an animated and quirkier version of Terminator, but with the resistance fighters replaced by the dolls.

This familiarity with the Terminator franchise was where the cracks in the originality began to show. When the cause of the world-changing event was revealed, it felt like I was watching a copycat origin of Skynet, rather than the back-story for a new vision. For most of the running time, I was enjoying the mystery and unexplained nature of the world before being clubbed with a derivative explanation. But the thing that bothered me the most about 9 was its lack of true accomplishment and fulfillment. About an hour into the movie's (way too short) 86 minutes, I realized that it wasn’t going to take off in any particular direction. Most of the events of the movie never amount to a strong plot, namely a goal that engages the audience and drives them towards a satisfying ending. It wasn’t until the final quarter that I finally felt any sort of connection and relevance following nearly an hour of exposition. Rather than connect the stories themes in a manner that would drive the point home, Acker seems more interested in throwing the pieces onto the playing field and then gets distracted with some mindless, though intense and well-crafted, action scenes.


The multi-talented cast does provide some nice if not too memorable voice-acting. Elijah Wood is decent and likable as the titular #9, but the character provides one of the most infuriatingly dumb moments I have ever witnessed and is upstaged by some of the more interesting supporting characters. The most complex of the dolls is #1, voiced by Christopher Plummer, who many of the characters criticize for being scared to fight and would rather hide in waiting for the inevitable. But this fear is not so much driven by cowardice, but by his willingness to create a unified collective that can survive the oppressive threat. His efforts are somewhat stunted by the more naïve dolls such as #9, #2, and the rebellious #7, who is the only girl of the group and chooses to survive on her own. #7 tends to get more of the “wow” moments during the action scenes, mostly due to her battle hardened experience and blade-staff. #5 (John C. Reilly) doesn’t really amount to much purpose in the overall story, although he does develop a nice companionship with #9. Also, the twins #3 and #4 provide some welcome comic relief (unlike another certain set of twins from the summer) while #8 mostly just lumbers around like a clueless grunt and Crispin Glover I felt was wasted as the slightly wacked out #6.

It pains me to bash 9 for coming up so short in its ambitions, because it at least tries to be ambitious and provide something original. I have no doubt that if Shane Acker can hone his craft in the story department, then his impressive visual eye can be taken more seriously than simple eye candy. He has the ideas already in his head, he just needs to find ways to tie all these pieces into a cohesive whole.


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