Sunday, September 20, 2009


(There are spoilers below.)

9 is a post-apocalyptic fantasy that suffers from huge huge logic holes and underdeveloped characters. This is a shame, as the film has strong art direction and what Variety would call "solid tech credits."

The story is about a scientist who invents a machine for the betterment of mankind and has it taken away from him and subverted by a military government. The machine is used for war and then turns on humans, wiping them out. Somehow, the scientist ends up being the last man alive. I would think that either he would be drafted to stop the doomsday machine or would be killed by an angry mob, but it appears that he's left alone to build dolls. Why he considers this the appropriate response is never explained. There's a streak of mysticism running through the film, as the scientist imparts a piece of his soul to the nine burlap dolls. After the ninth, the scientist has apparently run out of soul and dies.

I have to assume that numbers one through eight were unsuccessful prototypes, because the scientist leaves instructions explicitly for number 9. Based on the image above, 1 through 8 have specific tasks to perform, but they don't cooperate with each other or know what to do. 9 himself is responsible for a colossal blunder which exists only for the convenience of setting the plot in motion. That blunder is even more convenient in that a device the scientist has invented to save the world also fits perfectly in the doomsday machine, making it even more powerful. Way to go, scientist!

At the end of the film, 9 frees the parts of the scientist's soul that were embedded in five of the dolls. The souls ascend to heaven, causing a rainstorm. The implication is that somehow, the rain will renew the earth and there are hints that the raindrops contain bacteria to start the evolutionary process over again. I can only wonder why the souls of billions of humans who died previously were not capable of causing this rain.

Furthermore, the future for the four remaining dolls is uncertain at best. They seem incapable of reproducing, sexually or otherwise. Will they eventually wear out? Will they perish through accidents? Some dialogue states that the world is now theirs to remake, but the appearance of the bacteria-laden rain implies otherwise.

If the characters were memorable, these questions wouldn't matter quite so much. However, the characters are not well developed. While they have voices by Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau and Crispin Glover, the actors have nothing to work with. These characters have no arcs and have less personality, with a few exceptions, than the 7 dwarfs. That's a handicap that the animators can't overcome.

An audience enters a film through the characters. When characters are weak and underdeveloped, the audience has no reason to identify with them or care what happens to them. This reduces the impact of the various action sequences of the film. They are well directed and animated from a technical standpoint, but don't have the effect they should because the audience is not invested in the characters' fates. What makes it worse is that the film is almost all action sequences in order to pad out the slim plot.

The artists who worked on this film have done their jobs well. The film's shortcomings are not in the visuals, which are consistently good. As often happens, the artists have been let down by the script. Good art direction and slick production values are not enough for an audience. If they were, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow would be considered a classic instead of a film most people have forgotten.

Starz, the Toronto production company responsible for the bulk of this film's visuals, is developing into a first class studio. Because they are a shop for hire, they're stuck with the scripts they are handed and are in no position to demand rewrites. Eventually, they may get lucky and work on a hit, but it's a shame they have to trust to luck. The artists on this film have done work to be proud of, but it can't overcome the script's deficiencies. I hope someday they work on a film worthy of their talents.


Paul said...

Spot-on commentary. I agree that the art direction was so good that it's a real shame that the story let the artists down. Terribly lacking in character development.

Unknown said...

I really saw this coming. People expected too much on this movie just because of the names attached to it.

swtcurran said...

i thought the short film was fine, if just bearable. i have no interest in seeing it expanded - because there is nothing to expand. the story is derivative at best - and the ponderous seriousness of a very adolescent plot is enough to make me run away.

cloudy with a chance of meatballs on the other hand is one of the funniest comedies i've seen since "best in show." it is a wonderful rich surprise - and the best CARTOON i've seen in ages.

King Marvin Mugabi said...

very insightful review professor.


Steve Segal said...

Thanks for your well thought out commentary. I agree about the lack of character development. There was a plot hole that bothered me, early in the film 9 and the older doll (sorry I don't have the number scorecard) are attacked by a beast and are saved by the female. Why did she wait until now to slay it? There seemed no sense of cooperation or even distraction on the part of the beast, it just made for a convenient action moment.

jriggity said...

yEAH MAN......I was itchin in my seat with how poor the story was.

I had mid level expectations too....

man..what a dissapointment.

Nice artwork is all its got.


Toongirl said...

This did not surprise me either. Trying to expand an idea that worked well as a short into a feature length film usually does not work.

Have to admit I'm getting tired of all these films & games with post-apocalyptic scenarios. It's like reveling in a death wish.