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“9”- (Chris's Review)
Chris Pandolfi
Studio: Universal
Release Date:
Special Features:

Audio commentary / 3 featurettes / deleted scenes / original short


“9” is an astonishing technical achievement, and of that, I think we’re all in agreement. Just looking at this film is an experience unto itself; production design, art direction, and visual effects work in harmony to create a bleak but beautiful post apocalyptic landscape of rubble and shadow. The character designs, a combination of burlap and biotechnology, are refreshingly original. ***

As far as spectacle goes, “9” is mesmerizing, having the power to draw the audience’s attention before engulfing it in a fluid, textural world of imagination and style. While I haven’t been too impressed with the process as of late, this is a film that probably should have been released in 3-D, if not for the story, then for the joy of wanting to reach out and feel the surfaces coming off the screen. A lot of work went into creating the look of this film, and it most definitely paid off. ***

But for everything it achieves aesthetically, “9” is ponderous and enigmatic, a story that requires more conjecture than most, I suspect, are willing to apply. This, we may not agree on. We know that it takes place in devastated future, after humanity had lost a war against super intelligent machines of their own creation. We know that humanity is extinct; the only remaining life forms are not really life forms at all, but animate ragdolls with cloth for skin, scopes for eyes, and numbers for names. ***

We know that the latest ragdoll, #9 (voiced by Elijah Wood), has just come to life in the attic of a formerly well-respected scientist, whose lifeless body lies rotting on the floor below. We know that eight other ragdolls are out hidden amongst the rubble of the city, and that a monstrous machine with an animal skull affixed to its head is after them, hoping to find a special talisman with mystical powers. ***

Most importantly, we know that #9 must convince #s 1 through 8 that there’s more to the machine than meets the eye. This puts him at odds with #1 (voiced by Christopher Plummer), who has apparently appointed himself as the leader and rules only through fear. When #2 (voiced by Martin Landau) is kidnapped by the evil machine, for example, #1 would rather let him die and move on rather than try to rescue him. ***

#9 is not wired that way, and the pun is partially intended. Hoping to rescue #2 and discover the truth behind the machine and its ability to suck souls, he relies on the assistance of the one-eyed #5 (voiced by John C. Reilly), the rebellious #7 (voiced by Jennifer Connolly), and the mute #s 3 and 4, identical twins who communicate to each other via shutter-like eye blinks. ***

We know all this is happening. But really, what’s going on in this movie? What is the message that director Shane Acker and writer Pamela Pettler are trying to send? That as long as ragdolls are alive, humanity can continue to exist? There is an explanation for how these dolls were brought to life in the first place, and while it is basically sound, it also raises questions as to the nature of the human soul. The final shot hints at a hopeful future, although I can’t help but wonder how such a thing would be possible, seeing as there’s nothing biological about a doll made out of cloth, metal, and wood. ***

It has been suggested that life, in the strictest sense, is not dependent on biology, that soul or spirit is immaterial and not bounded by organic matter. Life continuing in the absence of flesh and blood may be the message being sent, but as I already said, this movie requires a lot of conjecture. ***

I admit that I might have missed something along the way, and if that’s the case, I apologize. Even if I failed to see the subtexts in “9,” I can still give it credit for getting me to ponder the mysteries of life and what it means to exist. If you choose to think about this film in those terms, it can potentially be the basis for a very stimulating debate. ***

To make things easier on myself, I choose to focus on the film’s technical aspects and how wonderfully atmospheric they are. A mood develops the instant the first shot appears, which shows human hands inserting a strand of thread into the eye of a needle. Much later on, after the characters are established, we take a closer look at the artistically prophetic #6 (voiced by Crispin Glover) and realize he’s wearing a black and white striped suit, a nod to Tim Burton, one of the film’s producers. ***

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me take a moment to address the film’s PG-13 rating. While I firmly believe that children in general can tolerate more unpleasantness than adults give them credit for, be aware that some younger audiences may find “9” a bit too much to handle, and this is in spite of a running time of less than eighty minutes. Many of the scenes featuring the evil machines are loud and intense, and some may be bothered by the sight of a dead body (even though the face isn’t shown). ***

Special Features:

This DVD includes an audio commentary with writer/director Shane Acker, animation director Joe Ksander, head of story Ryan O'Loughlin, and editor Nick Kenway. It also includes the original short on which the film is based, a selection of deleted scenes, and three featurettes--

‘9’: The Long and Short of It,” “The Look of ‘9’,” and “Acting Out.” The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen format and features Dolby 5.1 Digital sound. ***

Final Words:

It’s an animated film, but there are no cute or cuddly characters, and the comedy relief is used sparingly. And if I had trouble figuring out the story, imagine what it would be like for a six-year-old. Parents: Take heed of the rating and understand that “9” was made for older audiences.


Copyright @ Teakwood Productions 2000
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