One of my new Christmas presents, “9” quickly made it’s way to the top of my “To Watch” pile this last weekend…. (actually I suspect Carolyn might have moved it there so we would watch it instead of “Paku Kuntilanak” last Saturday…. such a naughty, naughty girl!!) and so after an evening’s viewing I’m ready to weigh in with my impressions on it.
Our Synopsis goes like this: “In the retro futuristic post-apocalyptic ruins of a deserted city, a small group of brave little robotic puppets led by a recently awakened “9”, battle evil machines for the right to rule over the lost world of Mankind…. Who will win this curious struggle and ultimately control the new world?”
Although produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov…. much of this film lies squarely on the shoulders of Shane Acker, creator of the imaginative short film upon which this one was based. I’d seen the Trailer of course, but this one turned out to be one of those films that just never made it to my lil’ town… so now that it’s newly out on DVD, I guess it’s time for your Favorite Catgirl to fix that particular lil’ oversight.
So… let’s all “Read On” and find out how this one ranks up, shall we?
Hmmmm? An animated movie about puppets fighting evil “Terminator”-like robot monsters….. Well you don’t get one of those every day now. This one starts out as our lil’ hero, 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood), gets put together with intricate loving care by the mysterious scientist who dies bringing him to life. How long he hangs, motionless before finally awakening is unknown….. but when he does, everything lies in ruin. With only a strange talisman and no memory of what came before or anyone to explain the world he’s suddenly found himself in, he’s forced to wander into the junk strewn world outside the shattered house in which he awoke searching for answers. Something bad happened here…. that much is evident, with ruin and decay and the remains of the dead everywhere to be found. It’s not our world…. instead the world of “9” is a steampunk version of World War 1…. with all the terrible trappings of Trench warfare and the quaint houses and wrecked cars of the 1920’s or 30’s. Thankfully it doesn’t take little 9 long to find a friend in the arrival of one of his “brothers”… Number 2 (voiced by Martin Landau)…. who immediately takes him in hand, glad to find yet another like himself still alive in this forlorn place.
2 realizes that 9 is mute… and being the inventive lil’ bugger he is, he tinkers a broken doll’s speaking device into 9 so that he can communicate. 9 realizes there must be others like themselves and that he isn’t alone in this weird place, but before 2 can really tell him too much, a terrible mechanical thing attacks them. Half machine and half skeleton, and all nightmare it seemingly is bent on destroying them at any cost. It wants the magic talisman 9 found in the ruined house where he awoke you see…. and it’ll tear him to bits to get it. Luckily 2 manages to distract the evil thing allowing 9 to escape, even though it tears up his shoulder in the process. Overpowered, 2 gets captured and the monster takes him to an ominous towering factory on the horizon as 9 slips into unconsciousness.
9 later awakens in the ruins of an old church, where he meets one-eyed Number 5 (voiced by John C. Reilly), who sews 9’s shoulder together and comforts him. Number 1 (voiced by Christopher Plummer), seems to be the leader of the group, along with the muscle of the hulking Number 8 (voiced by Fred Tatasciore), and he tells 9 that they have been hiding here ever since they awoke into the madness of the last days of “War of the Machines” that spelled the extinction of mankind. Later things quieted down as the machines won the war yet all but disappeared themselves. Except for the ever lurking Beast……
9 tries to get them to help him go to the factory and rescue 2….. but 1 will have none of that. He’s autocratic and inflexible in his views…. and will never take the kinds of risks that 9 suggests. Using 8 to bully them, he tells them they’ll only end up like the other absent members of the group 3,4 and 7 who are currently missing… having disobeyed his warnings against going out into the ruins to look for the truth behind their origins. 9 manages to convince 5 to come with him on a rescue mission to save his friend and together they sneak off to the old factory.
On the way…. they encounter 7, the only female member of the group, who’s gone all “wasteland warrior”…. and with her help they get into the factory and destroy the Beast… Cursed with an insatiable curiosity, 9 makes the mistake of placing the magic talisman into a socket in the great machine waking it from it’s inactivity. It comes to life…. and promptly uses the talisman to suck the life force right out of poor 2. Our little heroes barely escape….. and the machine begins to construct other horrible servants (like a nasty amalgam of baby doll, skeleton and snake) from the mixed debris of the factory…. you just know that’s gonna suck for the future happiness of the lil’ puppets.
From this point forward, the action switches to 9 and the group trying to undo the mistake of waking the evil machine….. as well as 9 learning exactly why they were made in the first place. There’s the standard creepy machine monsters to contend with… the friction between 1 and 9 over leadership of the group… and the eventual reuniting of all the surviving puppets to decide what they’ll do with the world they’ve inherited. It gets a bit deep and metaphysical here… as it seems all the puppets actually carry some portion of the old Scientist’s soul… as, it seems, does the Machine as well, although perverted by the Dictator who ruled the country so long ago. It’s never stated.. but apparently each of them has but a single facet of his psyche…. with 9 having perhaps the purest portion of it concerning his desires to build and explore. Not all our little heroes make it through… but Neko’s not going to spoil that for you. In the end, it’s a bittersweet chance for things to happen anew, perhaps for the better this time out. But that, I guess is left for the sequel…..
So overall, how was “9”? Well… it’s a technical triumph… with a visual style and look like nothing else I’ve ever seen. The characters, while a bit shallow, are engaging enough…. but somehow there just isn’t enough of a “spark of life” to make this one anything more than an interesting anime inspired fairytale. Neko liked it, but I wasn’t blown away by it. So… I’m giving “9” a respectable 3 “Meows” out of 5 for being quirky, and interesting, but somehow just as empty inside as the puppets themselves. Maybe a bigger examination of the various personalities of a single individual at war with themselves might have helped here, but I’m thinking the story wasn’t ready to get that deep. A shame… as this one is soooo close to being that kind or original vision that would be memorable for decades to come. In the end…. it’s only a curiosity like some of the junk our heroes find in the ruins of their world, recognizable in it’s potential but now lifeless. But… I do think this one is worth a look…. even if it’s not a buy for most, it should be a rental. Give it a shot… you might just like it even more than me.
Naturally, there’s a nice Trailer floating around, so here we go… enjoy!