Directors: Shane Acker
Screenwriters: Shane Ascker, Pamela Pettler
Cast: Elijah Wood, John C Reilly, Jennifer Connelly
Distributor: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Running Time: 79 mins
Timur Bekmambetov and Tim Burton are quite a pedigree to have producing your first feature. The whacked-out illogical madness of the former and the gothic stylings of the latter are clearly evident in Shane Acker’s directing debut, the post-apocalyptic 9, but so too are the film’s roots – it was originally an 11-minute short, and the leap to feature length is not an entirely successful one.
Mankind has come a cropper once more when the machines that a totalitarian government invented in their infinite wisdom decide to turn upon them, expunging humanoid life from the planet – a steam-punk-esque WWI-resembling place where airships, stern-voiced public information announcements and HG Wells-inspired tripods are very much the order of the day. Life is not all done for, though. A collection of nine raggy doll-looking little critters created by a crazy-haired scientist awaken in the rubble-filled doom and gloom that has been left behind but they’re not alone, with demon-red eyed machine monstrosities roaming through the wastelands, proving to be something of a hindrance to their raggy-mission to kickstart a new apocalypse-free future of freedom.
Bolstered to feature length, the story is the chink in 9’s armour. It’s underdeveloped and lacking direction or resolution, and the characters – the individually numbered and stitched together hopes for the future – suffer a similar fate. Varied to some extent in appearance and traits – the cowardly leader 1, the masked, ninja-tastic love interest 7 (Connelly), the friendly 5 (Reilly), the mute twins 3 and 4, who project old-school news reels from their eyes, and the heroic 9, who leads the revolution – they lack the depth and humanity of other animated creations, making it difficult to empathise with them and their plight. There are distractions from this, though. The film maintains a kinetic pace, careering through a number of high-octane chases and fights as 9 and co square up to their mechanical oppressors, and the world Acker envisages is terrifically realised. It is a kaleidoscopic invention that is part futuristic, part retro, and layered in neo-gothic tones and shades, the mechanoids themselves, often resembling something that Buzz and Woody’s evil toy-hating neighbour might have concocted. But, ultimately, they are just that – distractions, and short-lived ones at that.
Visually striking and rich in detail, but Acker’s debut can’t find the sory to match his impressive vision.
9 is out now on Blu-ray & DVD, courtesy of Universal Pictures. This review featured in issue 34 of SciFiNow, to purchase this issue online, order other Imagine Publishing products or to subscribe to SciFiNow, visit our eShop at www.imagineshop.co.uk.