Then last year, Pixar picked it up a level with WALL-E. Dealing with themes of loneliness and gluttony, and taking a look at the way mankind has treated this planet, Adults arguably enjoyed it more than the younger audience. Then this years Up dealt with missed love and lost youth in a poignant story of an Septuagenarian making one last journey. Now, Shane Acker’s 9 has come along to further the trend of using animated film to explore adult ideas.
When i first read about 9, i felt like i should know the director. After all, when a director’s name is included with the title of the film, like John Carpenter’s The Thing, it immediately gives the film an illusion of a big event. 9, however, is Acker’s first feature, so why the name? The answer lies in the proliferation of nine titled movies this year, which include the film Nine based on the musical, and District 9.
This 9 started off as a short film, an animated film school project of Acker’s which took four years to complete. The quality of the animation and an exciting storyline meant the film was brought to the attention of producer Jim Lemley, who immediately fell in love with it, and showed his complete faith in Acker’s vision by commissioning a feature length version. Directors Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov jumped aboard as co-producers. And now, four years later, it hits the big screen.
Though it isn’t stated as such, 9 appears to be set on Earth after an alternative history World War II. I can state this with a reasonable amount of confidence based on the abandoned period weaponry, and the brilliantly put together war propaganda film clips we are shown in the middle of the movie. The titular 9 is a small robotic being, clothed in sackcloth who suddenly awakes in a derelict building. He picks up a strange object, then opens a huge window to survey his surroundings. What he sees is an apocalyptic wasteland, a large city with big buildings reduced to rubble.
The only sign of life he sees is another small robot of his ilk, who turns out to be number 2. He discovers there are another seven more like him, but before 2 can tell him more they are attacked, and his new-found friend is taken away by a robotic beast. 9 must seek the others 2 spoke of, so that together they can track down the metallic monster, and liberate their captured brethren. The feature-length 9 is very much an extension of the short. The structure and plot is very similar, a couple of scenes are almost an exact copy. The biggest difference is that there was no dialogue in the original short, with the characters communicating everything through their actions.
From the outset, the animation of the world of 9 is truly breathtaking. The graphic styling is wonderfully mature, and hugely distinctive. The numbered beings, far from being cute, have a fantastic steam punk look, with their mechanical parts and basic stitched coverings. These graphic images give a real sense of atmosphere, with great use of perspective for background and foreground settings. The post-apocalyptic world is beautifully realised, and chillingly authentic. The remains of the man versus machine war are clearly evident.
It’s a shame we don’t see more of the world that existed before mankind was wiped out. In just a few minutes of historical film footage, Acker has created a vision of the struggle between mankind and their own creations far more compelling than Terminator Salvation managed in two hours. The action sequences are one of the best things about 9. Good use is made of the oversize environment around the stitch punk protagonists. The action is fast, exciting and very well choreographed. Each of the Numbers uses their unique skills to great effect.
This isn’t a perfect film however. The storyline, and the characters are a little two-dimensional (excuse the pun). Each of them has their particular trait, the strong one, the wise one, the warrior, but not much more is explored other than that. As the story is effectively that of human created mechanical beings against each other, it’s a little hard to relate to the heroes of the story. With the human race wiped out, do we really care if a small group of mechanical beings wins or loses a post-apocalyptic battle against another group? These issues are addressed somewhat in the anti-climatic conclusion, but it would have been better to have been drip-fed more of this information earlier in the story, allowing us to empathise more with these characters.
Less forgivable is the thread of the main character, number 9 himself. The hero is supposed to be likeable, but 9 is the cause of a lot of the disasters that beset the little survivalists, and you can’t help but think at times that they were better off before he turned up. It also doesn’t help that he is voiced by the whiny sounds of Frodo Baggins, Elijah Wood. Better are the voice talent’s of John C. Reilly as 5, the loyal everyman with a big heart, and Christopher Plummer as the authoritive and cautious leader, 1. Support is provided by Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau, Crispin Glover and Fred Tatasciore.
Overall, a good start from Shane Acker. Great animation, in a brilliantly designed world. I’m genuinely interested to see what comes next from Acker. A prequel maybe, charting the more interesting human against machine war? Personally, i’d love to see a Shane Acker animated adaptation of H G Wells War of the Worlds. Now that idea, i’d give a perfect 10.
9 is released this Friday 30th October.