9 (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Shane Acker
viewed: 09/27/09 at Century San Francisco Centre, SF, CA

Produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov, 9, director Shane Acker’s feature film debut, is a richly animated and designed science fiction fantasy set in a post-apocalyptic world in which machines have eradicated all life.  Rated PG-13 and quite full of darkness and scares, I opted to see this film without the kids.  I think it was the right move.  On DVD it probably wouldn’t be so frightening, but then again, the things that I think will frighten them tend to be somewhat different from the things that do.  You’d think I’d have figured that out by now, wouldn’t you?

9 is very gorgeously designed and the animation is vivid.  The characters are these enlivened burlap-sack androids, all nameless, but numbered, and the hero, the titular “9” comes to life with an interest in finding out why the world is the way it is and who they are and where they came from.  Though this is moderately metaphysical, and there is a subtext there, perhaps even slightly about the “sub”, the story also tells of how machines, created without “souls” could be influeced for evil and death.  What is posited is that if the “Creator”, here the scientist who has created both the evil robots and the good-hearted burlap people, gave the robots only his intellect, but gave the burlap his “soul”.  Then, the robots, completely lacking in morality, were quickly turned into killing machines and wiped out humanity.

So, there is both this strong quasi-religious theme and this additional fear of technology gone mad, a common enough theme historically in science fiction, but one that always strikes me as ironic in modern films that rely so heavily on technology to deliver their visions.  That irony is of course not addressed.

But really, the film, fast-paced as it is, lacks conviction in its storytelling, giving short shrift to these portentous themes as well as character development above the fairly standard-issue kind.  Much like producer Tim Burton’s work, the film is a lot of style with shallow depths of substance.  Where its design is striking, and the characters are visually vivid and delicately designed, all the qualities are a great visual facade, just empty within.

Still, not a horrible film by any means, and hopefully, if this director can find more interesting material, his design work would go for more and be more.  Sophistication in design is one thing.  Sophistication in narrative, character, and themes would be nice too.

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