Rated PG-13 for violence and scary images, 79 minutes
Dazzling visuals the highlight of the dark, uneven "9"
The new science-fiction animated movie "9" has a perfectly dated released on 09/09/09 but with imperfect timing, as some could confuse it with the recently released live action sci-fi "District 9" or the upcoming musical also called "Nine." Dark, uneven and very intense for an animated film, "9" is helmed by one of the visual effects masters behind " The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" and produced by Tim Burton. Unsurprisingly, the striking, crisp and energetic visuals are the highlight of an otherwise downbeat and detached film.
The time is the too-near future. Powered and enabled by the invention known as the Great Machine, the world's machines have turned on mankind and sparked social unrest, decimating the human population before being largely shut down. But as our world fell to pieces, a mission began to salvage the legacy of civilization; a group of small creations known as "stitchpunks" continue to exist.
The small group of stitchpunks, led by their self-appointed leader, 1 (Christopher Plummer) and named in order of their creation, includes kindly old inventor 2 (Martin Landau), skilled one-eyed mechanic 5 (John C. Reilly), brave warrior 7 (Jennifer Connelly) and the youngest but most courageous of the group, 9 (Elijah Wood), who has to help organize and motivate the group.
They must work together using their individual strengths to outwit and fight against the still-functioning machines, one of which is a marauding mechanized beast known as The Fabricator.
"9" is a bleak glimpse into the post-apocalyptic world, with some dazzling and imaginative visuals for first-time feature director Shane Acker, one of the visionary visual effects coordinators behind "Return of the King" who also developed the original story. The vivid CGI animation is also clean and crisp and resembles stop-motion animation in the mechanical movements of the characters and it's stoically voiced by some name actors you may or may not recognize.
And though the visuals in "9" rival those done by Pixar, you should be aware that unlike the recent, colorful "Up," this is definitely not a children's film. The outlook is bleak and there are some quite intense moments involving some of the beasts, who provide some of the more energetic highlights of the film. Though the stitchpunks are the heroes of the futuristic film, without those awesome, scary beasts "9" would be a dull affair. The Cat Beast, The Winged Beast, The Seamstress and the main beast of the film, The Fabricator, are all wicked creations from the mind of Acker and company.
The story isn't completely fleshed out, lacking empathy and heart and seems as unevenly patched together as those stitchpunks, with a new-agey ending that rings of false optimism and out of step with the rest of the film. "9's" voice work is pleasant but unassuming by a gallery of recognizable actors: Wood, Connelly, Landau, Reilly, and the distinctively voiced Plummer, though they tend to get lost in the fray from the exciting visuals (and "Back to the Future's" Crispin Glover is virtually unrecognizable in a tiny role).
With such a dreary, pessimistic and sci-fi heavy storyline "9" may have trouble finding a wide audience outside of the comic-con set, but it's worth a look for some fantastic, superbly-crafted CGI visuals.