“You forget to remember to be scared”
Is it wrong that Coheed & Cambria was playing in my head the entire length of my screening of Shane Acker’s 9? I guess that just goes to show how memorable the trailer is or how large my affinity for the band. I say that as an anecdote, though, not to cryptically express how I thought the film was boring—it’s far from it. I have not seen the 2005 Oscar nominated short for which Acker has expanded this from, but he has definitely infused enough plot and fantastical science fiction elements to warrant going from 11 to 79 minutes. The soul stealing of the original is ported over, yet the reasoning becomes deeper as the life source’s origin of these inanimate objects comes into play. This is a post-apocalyptic world that has been eradicated of humans by the machines they created. A scientist crafted an artificial intelligence powerful enough to advance technology to the nth degree, but as most stories of this ilk go, was usurped by the government to manufacture weapons, breeding violence and the eventual takeover. The scientist saw this failure and did all he could to breathe life into nine little stitched burlap humanoids to hopefully save the planet from complete extinction.
The tale begins as the titular “9” awakens for the first time, without a voice, and curious as to what he has been brought into. We are as confused as he, unsure of our surroundings, until the window shutters are pushed open, revealing the destruction that once was urban landscape. Adventure ensues as “9” stumbles upon others like him, older and wiser, some hiding to survive, others fighting to keep going. A small metal half-sphere, foreign markings on its face, soon becomes a crucial piece of paraphernalia too, both as a device to destroy them and save them. So it goes to these keepers of humanity to bring life back to the dying planet, a task realized while on the journey to save themselves as the original fabricated brain is awakened, ever more deadly than the cat-skulled beast terrorizing them at the start, sucking the souls from their soft, hollow bodies. It becomes a test of time and courage, learning to work as a team and sacrifice everything for the greater good of life itself.
To say too much about the story itself will only ruin the nuance and simplicity to what is truly going on. There is always something bigger lingering in the background—stakes much higher than the more evident plot at the forefront—hidden behind the more minimalist action/adventure of these humanoids and their survival. The bigger questions of why “6” continually draws the metal half-sphere or even of how these beings came to live and breath will be answered as the characters themselves discover the truth. “1” has been leading the way since the beginning, guilting them all to follow him because he’s kept them alive thus far, but to what end? Always hiding and running, “1” does what he can to squash any opinions of leaving to find out what is truly out there, driving “7”, the self-made warrior, away to fend for herself and “2” to cloak his scientific curiosity and stick with the herd. It isn’t until “9” arrives that the status quo is shaken up, either from his bravery or from his naivety—making the mistake that puts them all in danger—allowing for the necessity to chose whether to live or die.
9 has a pretty stellar voice cast with Elijah Wood as “9”, Jennifer Connelly as “7”, Christopher Plummer as “1”, John C. Reilly as “5”, and the underused Crispin Glover as “6”. However, the real acting prowess comes from the animation driving it all. The original short had no language and relied solely on expression and movement, something that definitely carries over here to enhance each being’s realism and humanity. It is a dark landscape with great use of light and atmospheric elements. Every action sequence is well-crafted and composed to stay interesting at all times; the machines reminding me of those disfigured toys under Sid’s bed in Toy Story. The film really does become even more of a success being an independent feature from Acker alone; this isn’t Pixar or Dreamworks with a highly paid staff, just former/current(?) Weta Digital artist and whomever he recruited, with the help of two visionaries in Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov. And how about the imagery shone via “3” and “4”s projector-like eyes? Vintage black and white work of war and history, infused with the machines yet retaining the antiquity of time.
Its runtime may seem short, but rest assured that its story is distilled to the necessities without any filler to kill momentum or pacing. Visually stunning and unique, 9 is a great alternative to the kid films generally utilizing the medium. Don’t forget that this thing is rated PG-13 and may have the goods to scare some youngsters unprepared for the battles or heady themes. It isn’t a movie that works for children with hidden treasures adults can find; it’s an adult film holding ideas of technology’s future, humanity’s fate, destruction and rebirth. I can see Acker eventually moving into live action as the storytelling is there as is the direction to hold an audience’s attention by being inventive and interesting. Even his use of sound excels due to one short moment of music, a climatic scene changing from relieved joy to scared trepidation in a heartbeat, all while “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” plays on an old Victrola; a beautiful juxtaposition indeed, and just one of many in a film smarter than appearances may initially infer, full of heart and hope for the future.
9 8/10 | ★ ★ ★
 (voiced by Elijah Wood) confronts the Fabrication Machine in Shane Acker’s epic adventure fantasy 9, which Focus Features releases nationwide on 9/9/09. Photo Credit: Focus Features
 (at left, voiced by Elijah Wood) and #7 (at right, voiced by Jennifer Connelly) flee for their lives in Shane Acker’s epic adventure fantasy 9, which Focus Features releases nationwide on 9/9/09. Photo Credit: Focus Features