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Hal MacDermot [Celluloid 09.04.09] post apocalyptic movie review scifi



Year: 2009
Directors: Shane Acker
Writers: Shane Acker & Pamela Pettler
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Hal MacDermot
Rating: 7 out of 10

Shane Acker won an Oscar nomination with the short version of this movie back in 2006, and this time he has all kinds of fire power behind him. Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov (Day Watch, Wanted) are executive producing and there’s a host of voice talent including Jennifer Connolly (Blood Diamond) and Martin Landau (Ed Wood, Space 1999). Danny Elfman does the themes. The fully apocalyptic monsters are visually stunning and it’s a steampunk-ish world where digital has disappeared and technology means mechanics with a splash of spiritualism. Looks a bit like World War II bombed London/Berlin with mechanical versions of evil Terminator machines. I found the story much less impressive, although there are some very cool action sequences. 9 is probably too scary for little kids, but for people old enough to drink beer, there’s not enough subtext or meaning around to bring full satisfaction.


A great deal of clever visual thinking has gone into this movie. Stated influences include the Polish artist Zdlislaw Beksiński, who was also the inspiration for horror vet Bill Malone in his visual feast, Parasomnia (2008). In 9, the mechanical monsters wearing animal skulls are awesome. Then Acker is also a fan of the Quay Brothers (creepy broken doll stop motion animation) and the Czech Jan Švankmajer (stop motion surrealist animation). In fact I wonder if the whole movie would have been way cooler if it was all stop motion in the brilliant Nightmare before Christmas style, or even in smoother Corpse Bride mode. There’s a realism in stop motion that can’t be beat and would really suit the dirty, broken world of the post apocalypse.

9 (voice of Elijah Wood) is the name of a toy puppet thing who wakes up into a world in which men and machine have torn each other apart and left nothing but desolation. 9 is a kind of mini man who looks like he’s made of sack cloth with mechanical bits added. There’s a nice touch when his voice is restored by adding the voice-box from a broken toy doll. Exploring this desolate world, 9 comes across 2 (Landau) another living toy like himself. Turns out there are a total of 9 of this itty bitty cloth puppet things and they’ve been hiding out in a ruined church, hiding from the murderous machines. My favorite character was “6” (Crispin Glover) a brave toy that’s one sandwich short of a picnic and dresses in prison camp stripes, but 6 really doesn’t get much screen time. I also loved 7 (Jennifer), a female martial arts warrior who kicked ass – hey, I wonder if that’s Timur’s influence? 9 tries to convince the other toys to come out of hiding and stand up to the machines. Only by travelling to the fortress of the machines will they discover the truth behind the apocalypse and their own existence.

An obvious film comparison would be Pixar’s Wall-E, that other big animated apocalypse, but the films are really very different. 9 is far scarier (for kids), and the monsters are excellent snapping, flying, whirring nightmares. On the other hand, Wall-E does have a clear story message about what happens when you over consume and get lazy blah blah; the messages in 9 are not so clear. Not that a film needs to have a message, but most kids films do. I suppose the message could be “don’t make machines that kill people,” but if that’s the message then I say “ m’kay...” Not sure if there’s a message in the release date of 09/09/09 turned upside down muahahahah. Apparently the 9 mechanical puppets are all aspects of their creator’s soul, but in effect this just means they have different character types, like in any story. Meaning apart, 9 has cool monsters and the action sequences where they are trying to annihilate the toy puppets are great. Also, check out the Focus Features website, they’ve set up a very nice gallery of apocalyptic art through the ages.

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Matt Gamble (8 years ago) Reply

Have to agree that the biggest problem with 9 is that is has little if any "moral" to the story. Which is odd if you consider it a children's film but I really don't. It may be animated, but to me it felt like a straight out exploitation film that just wanted to have a rocking good time. The 70 minute run time sure helps matters as well as the film has absolutely no filler and is just a continuous loop of chase sequences.

9 isn't a great film by any means, but it is 70 minutes of pure entertainment that is done incredibly well.


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