Thursday, September 10, 2009
9-a brilliant disappointment
"We had such potential. Such promise. But we squandered our gifts. And so, 9, I am creating you. Our world is ending. Life must go on."
Shane Acker made an animated short film called 9 in 2005. It was nominated for an Oscar (for Best Animated Short Film), and allowed him to expand on it into his 2009 feature length movie, also simply titled 9. It's about these tiny little rag doll creatures in a post apocalyptic city trying to figure out what they are, why they're there, and how to survive "the Cat", a robot animal seemingly programmed only to destroy anything that moves. Into this world awakens 9 (Elijah Wood) whom we see being created and awakening during the brilliant opening sequence. 9 quickly crosses paths with 2 (Martin Landau), who saves him from The Cat, gives him a voicebox, and temporarily mentors him through the world. Eventually 9 meets up with some of the others like him, the fearful leader of the community 1 (Christopher Plummer), the kind hearted 5 (John C. Reilly), obsessive 6 (Crispin Glover), and rebellious warrior 7 (Jennifer Connelly). They soon have to band together to outwit "The Beast", an newly awakened machine which can create many smaller machines, all for the purpose of destruction.
The design of the movie is endlessly fascinating. An unnamed city that our tiny heroes crawl around in, leading to a number of beautiful scenes and shots. The creation of the characters is wonderfully detailed, as we can even see the threads in the fabric that 9 is made from. I love the little things like that that Acker and his animators throw in. Just something like the fastener for the zipper that holds 9 together bouncing around as he moves, with a slight tink every time it does. The sound design is really extraordinary in creating the atmosphere for this world. Little details like the tink of the zipper are all over this movie. The design of "The Beast" is less interesting, since it's just kind of a big red light surrounded by all kinds of little details that we don't really care about.
The voice cast is top notch. With veterans like Landau and Plummer turning in quality work, while Wood is the perfect fit for 9, since the character is much like Wood's Frodo Baggins in his mixture of innocence and intelligent resolve. John C. Reilly is also a happy surprise as 5, lending the character the exact amount of curious smarts, and genuine kindness that he needs. Jennifer Connelly is good, if unremarkable, as 7.
I guess I'll now get to the disappoinment I felt. The opening minutes of the movie (really until 9 gets a voice) are absolutely extraordinary at putting us into a world that we've not really ever seen before. I felt like I was watching something new, and got excited for where the movie was going to take me. But I soon found out that the movie (much like the similarly titled District 9 a few weeks ago) uses its brilliant setup as a framing device for nothing more than an action movie. Also like District 9, the action is terrifically done. But with such dazzling opening moments, I wanted it to be more than just an action movie. It tries in its final stretch to bring itself more meaning, which I liked, but still felt disappointed about overall.
It has its moments, and it is periodically stunning, but I think it could've been a transcendent movie if it had realized the promise of those first few minutes (which are very close to the entire contents of the short film). I most certainly recommend people see it, because it is absolutely a good movie, but I felt it could've been so much more. I do find it hysterical that there were many parents at the screening I went to who had brought their young children to a PG-13 movie that had been advertised as darker than usual (I believe one of the marketing taglines has been "This isn't your little brothers animated movie") and sometimes complaining about the darkness (beheadings, crushings, and other rag doll-on-robot violence) that is in the movie. It reminded me of offended parents walking their kids out of the "new Christmas movie" they went to see, Bad Santa, a proudly R-rated movie that they had obviously ignored the rating for.