Directed by Shane AckerStarring Elijah Wood, JenniferConnelley, John C. Reilly and Christopher PlummerRated PG-13*6.5*
Goes well with: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline, The Matrix
If there's one thing we should learn from the movies, it's that creating machines that can think for themselves is a bad idea. It's right up there with cloning or manufacturing genetically engineered viruses, because, let's face it, it's only a matter of time before the clones rise up against their scientist overlords or the virus escapes the confines of the laboratory—or, of course, the machines realize that if there are no more people, there are no more fingers to push the “Off” button. Think Terminator. Think Virus. Think Logan's Run. And now, think 9.
It's become cliché to say that you've never seen the story told “quite like this,” but, in the case of 9, you really haven't. Director Shane Acker labored for years over a short version of 9 that was ultimately nominated for an Oscar, catching the attention of Tim Burton, who served as an executive producer of the feature-length edition, along with Russian director Timur Bekmambetov.
The time is the future. The world has crumbled, the people are all dead, and all that's left behind are strange, living, animatronic rag dolls. We discover this when one of them, the number 9 stitched into his back, wakes up and staggers into an urban landscape that's been decimated by war. Soon, he stumbles upon another of his kind, 2 (Martin Landau), who is nice enough to install a voice box into 9 that makes him sound exactly like Elijah Wood. But 2 is rudely snatched away by some freakish robot-dog creature and taken to an ominous-looking factory, leaving 9 terrified and alone. Eventually discovered by 5 (John C. Reilly), 9 learns that there are scant rag dolls left—they've been involved in an ongoing power struggle, as 1 (Christopher Plummer) rules with an iron fist, assisted by his knife-wielding henchman, 8. Regardless, 9 and 5 set off on a mission to rescue 2, eventually meeting up with 7 (Jennifer Connelly) and discovering The Machine, the artificial intelligence responsible for the end of humanity.
Questions? You'll have them. Like, what are these odd, dumpy little rag dolls? Where did The Machine come from, and can it be stopped? Acker doesn't offer up many answers in the first hour, but, honestly, he doesn't need them. We know what comes of intelligent machines. The end of humanity is intimated just enough. And the visuals Acker has created are utterly stunning. The attention to detail, whether it's the stitching on one of the rag dolls or the ruins of civilization, are so fine that 9 is the movie that should compel you to finally switch to Blu-Ray. The story propels the movie along for a very satisfying hour, with good voice acting and just enough PG-13 violence to keep it grown-up.
But, yes, just an hour. And, yes, that's the movie's problem. It goes on for another 20 minutes, attempting to provide answers in a nice, expository package. But all the loose strings are tied in ways that don't make enough sense, resulting in a quasi-metaphysical ending that's more scattered than satisfying.
But even though it ends up overdone, the plot is intriguing. Acker's voice cast is spot on, especially in Reilly's sad-sack 5 and Plummer, who plays a glorious dictator of a very small fiefdom. Between 9 and Up, Plummer has carved out a place this summer as the go-to animated villain, an old pro using his old tricks in a new medium.
However, even though the film is gorgeous, we're left to wonder not just whether there's a future for the planet, but also whether rag dolls have the ability to reproduce. And even if they do, where does that leave us poor, dead, stupid humans beyond simply being poor, stupid and dead? Still, we had it coming, creating machines like that. It's like brilliant scientists never get out to the movies.Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Would you like your online comment to be considered for publication in our print edition? Include your true full name and neighborhood of residence.