Co-produced by, among others, Nightwatch/Daywatch director Timur Bekmambetov and Tim Burton, 9 is a beautifully animated (in CGI) but narratively compromised fable about – sort of – societal cooperation and the virtues of steampunk stitchery over cyperpunk soldering.
Or maybe not.
It’s hard to tell what the moral message is, other than “It’s good to work together to achieve your goals” or “Don’t press random buttons unless you know what they might do.” What 9 inarguably is, is a feature-length retelling of director Shane Acker’s 2005 Academy Award-nominated short film of the same name.
As in the original, the principal characters – numbered “1” through “9” – are stitched-together mechanical rag dolls in varying degrees of soiled disuse, which exist in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Humanity, we discover, has gone to war with its machines, and the machines won.
“9,” voiced with just the right amount of curious trepidation by Elijah Wood, awakes one day in a dusty cupola, the long-dead body of his inventor below him and a world of peril (and ingeniously detailed animation) just outside the window.
Initially voiceless, “9” goes off in search of, well, anything, and discovers another similar patchwork automaton, the kindly “2” (Martin Landau), who is able to fix “9’’s broken voice box before being attacked and carried away by a robotic cat-thing that looks, to its creator’s credit, like a cross between a Joel-Peter Witkin painting and Burton’s kidhood Erector Set.
Acker’s original was a darkly whimsical blend of CGI wizardry and silent film tropes that worked together to create something finer and more beautiful than the sum of it 11 minutes. This expanded version only suffers, albeit in grim visual splendor, from the extrapolation.
New characters (and sometimes, but not always, their relevant back story) are introduced and expanded upon, but such additions only serve to expose the seams in what was previously a seamlessly magical tale (a narrative problem that producer Burton has been battling at least since he turned a batch of cool ’60s bubble-gum cards – Mars Attacks! – into a colorful, feature-length mess).
9 (2 ½) • Directed by Shane Acker • voices by Elijah Wood, Crispin Glover, Jennifer Connelly • Rated PG-13 • 79 min • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.