Time/place: 3:40 showing at Kaleidoscope w/Scott
September 9, 2009 in theater #9 right next to a theater screen playing District 9, I watched 9. Nein 9 Nein 9 Nein, indeed! 9, a movie NOT directed by Tim Burton is a fun little take on a post-apocalyptic world featuring hand-made little creatures. See the trailer, you’ll get it. In keeping with my new tradition, a full spoiler-ific review will continue below, but up here I’ll keep it safe. The first thing that I have to mention is that I was in giddy awe the entire time. From the very opening moments, the amount of creativity in character design reminded me of something I would have grown up with… something that popped out of the Jim Henson studio. Visually, the art direction and cinematography are very beautiful, but I was continually reminded of the great design. The world these characters inhabit always felt huge, yet I believed that they managed it realistically. This appreciation for fantastic design and physics on the director’s part paid off well, even though it was the highlight of the movie.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but it could have been longer. At 1h 20mins, 9 feels just like a short movie that had been expanded – which is exactly what it was. There is NO filler here, at all. The story constantly moves, and it keeps a great pace. These characters live in a constantly perilous world, and I definitely felt that, but I would have loved some more character moments. There are a number of slower moments, and certain characters go deeper than others ("#5" is decently fleshed out, while "6" is somewhat flat), but overall – I would have cared just a bit more about them all had I been able to spend more time with them. The characters are all completely charming and competent, though… it’s simply a minor complaint that kept me from falling head over heels for this move.
Though the ending came a bit too quickly for me, and there were some very minor disappointments as far as character goes, I really enjoyed this movie. 9 is fun, creative, entertaining, and has an ending that you will either find annoying or lovely – and if it interests you at all, I hope you see it :-).
Warning: There be spoilers below…
Starting off the movie, I thought I was in for something really, really amazing. I think part of my slight disappointment was that it started so strongly, and then slowly dissipated as it went on. The introduction to our "lead" character, #9, is amazing. He does not speak, and for minutes and minutes into the movie (didn’t time it, sorry, so you have to suffer the vague and asinine description prior) there is only music and sound. It has a stillness, much like the opening of WALL-E, that I am a HUGE fan of. He eventually comes across another character like himself, who assists him in recovering his voice, but it was a great transition into this silent and dangerous world. Similarly, I think it’s a humorous transition from director Shane Acker’s short film that inspired this feature-length picture in which the sack creatures didn’t speak at all. Honestly, though I know it would have been a creative difficulty and most definitely disaster amongst the general public, I might have preferred that none of the creations talk at all. Not that they were bad – it just would have been different. Of course, it would have been hard to get the story across in this way, since what powers the creatures is something very interesting… a soul.
I wanted to give this movie an A up there so badly for this very reason, but the issues of basic storytelling/character development prevented me from doing so. So, yes – a soul. A human scientist creates a thinking machine, which is taken over by military sorts who unleash it into a weapon. Of course, if you’ve seen Terminator, you know the machines then wage war against humanity and everyone is destroyed. This same human scientist, however, in sight of imminent death and destruction, creates 9 creatures that will retain the one thing that his previous creation had not, a touch of humanity. I really loved the idea of the soulless machine hunting down the 9, attempting to take in their spirit – most likely unsure of what it was missing, but realizing that these little creatures had what it wanted. The ending had something to do with these souls, and I’ll be honest when I say that it’s definitely something left to the viewer’s imagination. Pulling away from the remaining characters at the end, as rain soaks the camera’s lens, hearing the final line of uncertainty… it was all very beautiful, even if I couldn’t tell you EXACTLY what the director intended in meaning. See it and you’ll know what I mean.
Personally, I thought that the end would see the portions of soul from the dead characters brought back to life. Alas, it was not so, but we do get to see them one final time in a very Obi-wan Kenobi kinda way. And oh yes, my friends… characters do die. I loved that the movie didn’t pull punches, and that there was no resurrection (as I thought there would be) for fallen characters. Four of the 9 are killed, and it just keeps happening left and right – anybody was fair game, it seemed. Of course, somewhat annoyingly, the female creation doesn’t die because she has to have a romance with #9. You know I’m one for happy and even cliche endings, but I suppose this issue comes down to the fact that I might have very well preferred the characters to be slightly less human… but, then again, that is sort of the point. These characters all embody different aspects of humanity (leadership, fear, hope, etc.), and even through any complaints I might have had, this idea always won out. That’s why I can’t say much in the way of poor remarks without covering myself – ultimately, the story and ideas were amazing… they just didn’t quite come across as such.
Again, somewhat of a mention on the effects is necessary for a moment. I never felt lost amidst all of the action (and this really is an action movie – believe it), but my only gripe there is with the soulless machines. I LOVE saying that, by the way :-). It’s such a fun idea that I wish had been explored more – creations from the same man, one with soul and the other without. I digress, though. These "evil" machines were just as amazing in design, though they sometimes suffered from the same issue that plagued the Transformer movies – overcomplication. While not nearly as bad as those movies, the villain machines had so much going on that one could get lost looking at all of the parts, especially on the big one. The 9 were extremely simple and smartly designed with hand-crafted style, so the contrast of the two as character-types was interesting, though. So, as you can see, unlike Transfomers this confusing character design can also have a second layer of meaning in regards to the story.
That’s the ultimate conclusion, right there. As I said above, this feature-length debut for Shane Acker has a billion great ideas, and for a first outting it’s amazing work based solely on the ideas behind his actions. I enjoyed 9 immensely because of what it wanted to be, even in spite of some things that it was, and above all I am looking forward to this guy’s next endeavor. I honestly think the aforementioned Jim Henson would have enjoyed this movie for its creativity and heart, even though it felt somewhat amateur in its storytelling … because I know I sure did.