Based upon the Oscar-nominated animated short of the same name, Shane Acker's 9 is a visually elaborate adventure film about a band of miniature puppets that must survive against evil robotic creatures bent on their destruction in a post-apocalyptic world where all of humanity has been wiped out. Not quite for children, 9 is one of the most ambitious films of the year, and while it's thoroughly entertaining, it's isn't as incredible as Acker intended.
9 features a voice cast of Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Jennifer Connelly and Fred Tatasciore, an excellent array of names if that mattered in a movie like this. The movie has great visual effects; Acker has spared no expense making an intricate world of destruction and death, where every tiny detail is fleshed out. The setting - what looks like a bombed-out England post WWII - is gorgeous in a nightmare kind of way, and the few creatures that inhabit the desolate place - the bug-eyed good guys and the spider-esque robots - are imaginative. Plenty of care has been put into how the movie looks and feels.
Less care has been given to the screenplay, written by Pamela Pettler (Corpse Bride, Monster House). As an animated adventure, 9 is good enough: the title character awakens, not knowing anything about this world he's been born into. The scientist who made him is lying dead on the floor, his flesh long since rotted away. He soon discovers others like him and learns they've taken sanctuary at a church, but an unwise decision unleashes the creature that is responsible for the end of the world, a machine-building "brain." The good guys then get themselves into several situations where they attempt to escape attacks by these robots and subsequently more where they decide it's upon them to destroy their enemies once and for all. Basically, the plot is run, hide, run, hide, attack.
This is all fine and good, but as enthralling as the animation is, the plot is just... okay. There's nothing particularly memorable about it, nothing unique or out of the ordinary. Sure, it's a cartoon, so it's not necessary to be picky, but this is a cartoon that's not really made for kids. At least not young ones. While most of the film is pretty safe - there's plenty of nail-biting action to keep a kid (or adult) engaged - 9 isn't your typical family fare. Some dead bodies are shown; all of humanity has been destroyed in a mass genocide; the robots are incredibly scary, especially a cobra-esque one that has a human skull as a head; and everything is deathly serious.
So, as a movie made more for adults (there was only one young girl in the theater, and I suspect her mom hadn't watched the trailer), the screenplay struggles at time. The dialogue is pretty rudimentary, with characters spouting out cliché statements that never amount to very much. There are a few noticeably clunky parts. The last minute or two make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Wood's voice is also too recognizable for the lead; I found him to be distracting.
Despite its flaws, 9 is an entertaining adventure film with amazing special effects and some creativity. It's a shame the screenplay wasn't a little better, but as is it still works effectively. Recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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