There's nothing inherently wrong with 9 that a few passes through the patentend "has this story been told ten trillion-million-billion times already-ogrifyer" would have probably fixed. But since that device doesn't exist outside the confines of my own strange mind, we're left with 9, an expanded short from 3D animator Shane Acker. The short, which appears as an extra on the DVD is actually visually compelling, nearly devoid of voice acting (it might actually have no spoken lines, I can't remember) follows a couple of stitched together dolls through the cast of ruins of a long dead humanity. The short, which runs about 10 minutes has enough atmosphere and genuine creepiness to be memorable.
It does not, however, have enough of that to warrant a 79 minute movie. Especially one where every post-apocalyptic trope from as far back as the screenplay by H.G. Wells for "Things to Come" is thrown against the screen like a salvo of CGI spitballs. This screenplay comes from Tim Burton and Robert Zemekis collaborator Pamela Pettler, scribe for both Corpse Bride where Burton Directed and Monster House which Zemekis produced. She's obviously got some chops for working with off kilter sort of material though the rest of her credits read of tween-afternoon TV reruns, still. Corpse Bride was good, sort of, I guess.
I hate Tim Burton.
Ahem… Anyway, where was I? Right! 9!
Tim Burton is one of the producers of 9 as is Timur Bekmambetov, the guy who directed Wanted. Both of these guys' names come attached to spooky imagery and 9, for its post apocalyptic setting, has its share. Shane Acker's visual style reminded me of the old Tool videos from back when MTV didn't flood the screen with mentally retarded Italian stereotypes and a herpes filled hot tub. Seek the old Tool videos out on Youtube, they were bizarre and 9's look has a lot in common with them. The difference is that the Tool videos end in about 4 minutes while 9 lasts an epoch.
We meet 9 (Elijah Wood) hanging in a little frame thing until, imbued with life, it drops down and scampers off to join the other little doll people who make up the cast of the film. He first meets 2 (Martin Landau) a scientist archetype who is exploring the ruins. Later, 9 will make pals with all of the other little doll monsters, 6 (Crispin Glover), 7(Jennifer Connelly), 8, (Fred Tasciatore), 5, John C. Reilly, and their leader, 1 (Christopher Plummer).
It's probably better that the characters are numbered rather named as each one's personality, appears to be mirrored by its place in the lineup, except for 7, and we'll get to her in a minute. 9 is the audience analog, and since he's just become alive, it's through his new experiences in the ruins that we'll learn about this world and the one other thing that lives in it.
See, also prowling the waste is a beast with a cat skull and a bunch of metal skeleton pieces. And this beast seems very glad to take whichever of the little doll people it finds back to a ruined factory across the way from the ruined laboratory where the numbered characters live. In this first few minutes the beast grabs 2. In the ensuing, well filmed action set piece, 9 gets some glowing little doodad from 2's body. Before he can make sense of what's going on, he's apprehended by 5 and brought back to 1.
It is here that 9 learns that humanity created horrible machines that killed everyone and they are the only living things left. 9 wants to mount a rescue for 2, 1 says no. 5 is easily convinced and off they go. On the way they meet 7, who is a much more active character than 7 and with the help of the obviously crazy 6, is starting her own little colony in the wastelands. She agrees to help bring 2 back, and fills in some more of the annoying plot details for 9.
What we get for the next hour is a relentless back and forth, back and forth, trek across the ruins, which are always tainted red perhaps to evoke both blood and factory brick dust, so that they can turn off the last remaining machine that caused Armageddon in the first place that they, inadvertently turned on while rescuing 2.
And that's one of the places where the film just start to fall apart. I can deal with human characters, animated animal characters, robots, all manner of human analogs as long as they give me a reason to give a rat's ass about their existence. In 9 I didn't care whether the dolls lived or died, and when the hack-faux mysticism borrowed whole-cloth from Puppetmaster 3 to explain the purpose of the dolls, then the film zigs away from that explanation at the climax, I wanted to punch the TV and stomp all of my kid's toys into rubble.
Further dropping the façade of quality are the relentless action scenes. We know, they're dolls, they don't get hurt. Once the machine sends out its minions to collect the souls of the numbered cast, the film literally just a set of action scenes stitched together for the last 40 or so minutes of the film. Yeah, it was great too look at, I guess, I can't remember because I was bored. The characters, when they do talk (and it's rare) speak only in the broadest plot-friendly ways possible. Simple, declarative sentences, with no subtext, that affirm whatever we in the audience have already assumed based on the visuals.
The character design, sort of broken toys all stitched together of burlap, with big googly eyes and pokemon smiles didn't do anything to humanize the main characters either. With no blood or viscera or breath or apparently, skeleton, or brain, or anything else we'd recognize as human it's like watching the Buzz and Woody from Toy Story ruminate on the end of the world. Who freaking cares? No me, that's for sure.
Finally, and I put the blame for this crap solely on Toy Story because they set the bar for hiring A-list talent for animated voiceover work, the cast doing the voices for 9 is way overstuffed with talent that is so far above this material as to think maybe they were assigned to do this as some form of punishment or possible community service. You know, there are THOUSANDS of voice over actors out in Hollywood and Vancouver who'd have probably loved to do the voices for this flick and would have at half the salary you paid the the folks who DID do the reading. You could have put that money into a better script. It's not like the 13 year olds (and under) who watch this are going to give a shit that John C. Reilly, or Jennifer Connelly, or Elijah Wood did any of the goddamn voices anyway! It's like when Jet Li was cast as the snake in Kung Fu Panda. He has like 4 lines. Why the fuck would you hire Jet Li to SPEAK 4 lines?? He doesn't kung fu his lines. He doesn't action set piece his lines. He fucking pigeon English-es his lines!
ARRRRRRRRGH!!!! I HATED THIS MOVIE!!!!!
So yeah. 9.
The DVD, which was a "rental exclusive" whatever the hell that means, contained deleted scenes, some were just storyboard and narration and others were animatics. Neat to see once, I admit, and I can see why they were cut as the content was either reabsorbed into other parts of the film or the material would have been redundant. I did not see a commentary track, but that the omission of that might be the exclusive part of the "rental exclusive". The DVD also contained the original 10 minute short, which, if you want to say "yeah, I saw 9!" is the one to watch.