Recovering from Thanksgiving meant that one day I did a lot of sleeping. I also went and saw the movie 9 playing in the local Dolphin Theatres, a 2-cinema venue that has no center section of seats but just right and left…oh, and no heat, but it’s cheaper and close. I had seen a trailer for this animation and Tim Burton’s name was involved so I thought it would be good. Of course, ole Tim hasn’t batted 100. I tried to watch James and the Giant Peach (have and love the book) but I just kept falling asleep. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was an unfortunate timing with the child abuse lawsuits against Michael Jackson, and Sweeney Todd was just slow.
So Tim can get it and then miss. But one thing is for sure, his eccentric sense of imagery and pacing often add an otherworldliness to his films. Of course he does like to choose the quirky topics. So 9 is not the first animation that Burton has been involved with, though here he is only the producer along with Timur Bekmambetov. Shane Acker is the writer (screenplay by Pamela Pettler) and it is based on a short animation Oscar nominated in 2005.
The movie opens right away with a hand stitching together a puppet/mannequin. There are no credits, no film title (though there might have been and somehow I missed it in the subtlety). It just begins so the voices of each character aren’t really discernible as a particular actor. At the end you find out the voices of each doll being was played by well-known actors: Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Fred Tatasciore (the least known but then the character 8 is an overlarge, thuggish brute who speaks little). I wonder if Hollywood’s penchant for using famous names in animations actually pays off. I could care less if the voice is Johnny Depp or Joe Blow as long as it suits the character.
So the movie opens with 9 being made and coming alive, a little stitched doll, with humanlike movement, intelligence and expression. He discovers a world destroyed by the vagaries of war and any human shown, the scientist who made him and a dead girl in a car, have no rot. In fact the humans have become inanimate, while the constructs have become animated. Those are really the only people in the film, whether dead or alive, except for some film flashbacks.
The cause of the “presumably” worldwide devastation was a war run by a dictator and a scientist’s wondrous invention that was taken from his control. That there is a close similarity to Hitler’s Third Reich and the inventions of J. Robert Oppenheimer (considered father of the atomic bomb) and the fears of Einstein is no coincidence. Oppenheimer quoted the Bhagavad Vita back in his day: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Interestingly the actor who plays the scientist’s voice also has the name of Alan Oppenheimer.
The second world war is in fact iconic and symbolic to anyone born in the 21st or 20th century, so it is only natural that it is the template for wars in any movies that aren’t specifically historical. The time is hard to tell because there are advanced technologies (the thinking Fabrication Machine that can build and create new machines) to old phonographs. I would presume the creators wanted to keep it iconic and timeless on purpose. The tale is one of daring and fear, of curiosity and power. 9 worsens the situation but then tries to right his wrongs, at great cost to everyone.
The characters all have male voices except for the bold and fearless 7, played by Jennifer Connelly, but it’s hard to discern a sex per se of dolls that are sewn and sexless. They have no way of reproduction and they have no genitalia. Yet there is definitely the hint of a friendship/love forming between 7 and 9. Which is probably what puzzles me most about this world. The scientist created them. They are the essence of humanity but they have no way of bringing more life to the world, or do they? The ending gives a hint of change.
The story itself is not really new in plot but presented refreshingly enough. 9 can assuage his guilt of the others losing their lives by redeeming their souls. As many tales are, it is a tale of redemption and of good or the just conquering evil. Overall, I found 9 well done; the animation and the textures of each fabric made doll, the shine of broken statues, the dinginess of bombed out buildings adds to the complexity of the scenes. Yes it still looks animated and the humans look least real of all but then it would have been hard to do otherwise.
Technology starts out as a bad thing here, which we often see in mediocre science fiction but it is presented fairly, showing the good aspects (the dolls) and that people, not science can warp machines. Though in truth the machines are imbued with a life and intelligence that makes them sinister and vindictive. The movie was enjoyable and tense at times in evading mechanized monsters. I’d give it a 7 out of 10.