Director: Shane Acker
Cast: The voioces of Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Crispin Glover, Fred Tatasciore
MPAA Rating: (for violence and scary images)
Running Time: 1:29
Release Date: 9/9/09
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Review by Mark Dujsik
Machines are humankind's destruction and salvation in 9, a visually striking piece of work from first-time feature director Shane Acker.
The film is an expansion upon Acker's short film, which was nominated for an Oscar a few years back, and while the short also looks fantastic, it could definitely use some extrapolation. Here, the material gets its due. Acker develops his post-apocalyptic wasteland with interspersed backstory, fleshes out the enigmatic plot, and brings us a wider view of the terrain.
While broadening the material, though, Acker is wise to still keep an air of mystery to the whole thing. Yes, we now know why the odd, small burlap robots are the only signs of life left on Earth (apart from the demented mechanical creatures who hunt them), what they're thinking (because they talk—blasphemy, surely, for some folks), and what their goal is, but the film also leaves us asking the right questions, too.
So who is 9 (voice of Elijah Wood)? It's a robot, with the skin of a gunny sack, gears for innards (and a zipper to access them), eyes that adjust like the shutter of a camera, and an unstoppable drive to search for answers.
It awakens in a lab, with its creator dead on the floor, and ends up meeting the other eight of his kind—all numbered, all with different, broad strokes of characteristics.
Who are his counterparts? There's 2 (voice of Martin Landau), a fellow questioner who's snatched up by a motorized bobcat-like creature (It's most distinct feature: a feline skull for a head) and taken away to a factory in the distance.
There's 5 (voice of John C. Reilly), 2's old apprentice, who wants to help 9 find 2 but doesn't have the guts (literally and figuratively) to stand up for himself. That's because 1 (voice of Christopher Plummer), the leader of the pack, doesn't want answers. He just wants to survive.
Rounding out the rest are 7 (voice of Jennifer Connelly), an acrobatic warrior, 6 (voice of Crispin Glover), an obsessed drawer of symbols, and 8 (voice of Fred Tatasciore), the brawn of the operation. Meanwhile, 3 and 4 are the silent keepers of history who help the gang understand why they occasionally stumble across a human corpse here and there.
The world here is bleak, desolate, almost monochromatic. The factory where 2 ends up is on one end; on the other is the Numbers' sanctuary in the form of a cathedral. In the middle, are the barren remnants of humanity—abandoned cars and houses, debris, dust and dirt.
The story is most certainly an adventure, as the Numbers do battle with the faux bobcat, a winged terror, a giant, multi-legged glowing red eye known simply as the Machine (which has echoes of the machines from The Matrix).
There are a few very effective action setpieces spattered throughout the Numbers' travels. They battle the bobcat-esque machine inside the giant factory, and later on, the winged monster invades their sanctuary—the fight moving to taller heights as it progresses. Much later, the Machine itself gives chase, leading the Numbers to make do with some mortar guns (It's an effort for a group of foot-tall robots to fire it but not as much as one would think) and to try to outrun it over a shaky bridge.
The Numbers have their own personality traits to aid or hinder them, and 9 is in possession of a mysterious half-sphere with symbols that are eerily similar to those that 6 compulsively draws. That half-sphere is key to unlocking the reason for the lack of humans and the Numbers' existence.
We learn from 3 and 4 of a terrible war between man and machine that brought about the age of the Numbers. A scientist created the Machine to bring about good for humanity, but a crazed dictator decided it had other potential. Whether the Machine could have done good is irrelevant, as it's mankind's use for the Machine that brought about its own demise.
On the other end of the spectrum, then, are the Numbers, who represent that creative spark. That conflict is at the heart of 9: our creativity to invent and explore with the best intentions set against how we act with those discoveries.
Just think of the imagination and skill it took to unlock the mysteries of the atom, and then remember the most famous instances of what we did with that technology.
These are the kinds of questions left open for us to ponder at the end of 9, and a film this eye-catching demands attention. That it leaves us considering more than the visuals is even more impressive.
Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.