Movie Title: 9 (2009)
When I saw the 1990 film Edward Scissorhands, I can remember not knowing exactly what to think. Those scissor hands were made for Edward, who himself was also "made," created by his creator/father, The Inventor, who died before he could give him real hands. But he bled. Edward cut himself in one scene. He bled like a human. At the end of the day, he was human…at least he might as well have been. Having a “designed” flesh-and-blood human being was a bit disconcerting. You never get to know much about how he is what he is, and that took from the effect of the film.
Nineteen years later, I’m sitting in front of a screen taking in some incredibly well done special affects about an apocalypse-crushed world. There is so much sensory input, and every bit of it speaks to man’s fascination with doomsday phenomenon. A mechanical “beast” with a great big red eye - well after the world and all life in it seems to have been destroyed - is roaming about making sure any and everything that moves is dead. Its job is almost done.
But less than nine little creatures remain. They keep moving, having to be careful. Staying alive is hard. Nearly all of them have been killed—it is fair to say “killed” because clearly (by the Edward Scissorhands definition) they were “alive” and very much like that human scientist who created them to carry on with human virtue and even gender roles.
These little life forms aren’t human, but then they are. At first, I wasn’t sure that they weren’t some type of modified rodent or ant. The bug eyes and funny little fingers, the stitched up skin/garments…as with Edward Scissorhands, I didn’t know what to think. And these little things never really won me over. The apocalyptic theme…it didn’t have me.
One problem with scary Tim Burtonesque animated films is that they eliminate a huge chunk of their audience. Kid’s movies can’t be horrifying, and this one isn’t for kids. But then, why have an animated film that can’t touch a younger audience? That’s one problem, and it’s a small problem.
My bigger problem with the film was that it wasn’t as creative as it was promised to be. Great care was taken to map out the characters. Each numbered creature is wholly different from the others. #9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) is smart and inquisitive, and also defiant. His nature puts him at odds with the leader, #1 (Christopher Plummer). It was Plummer who got to deliver the simple-but-dauntingly impressive lines.
#7 is a chick (Jennifer Connelly) and she’s good supporting character material. But I expected more—and not from the voice actors. Martin Landau as #2 and John C. Reilly as #5 were on the same level as everyone else. I’m sorry to admit that no one could make me care for these human nonhumans. I didn’t sympathize with their plight because I didn’t know what they were, which meant I couldn’t classify them like I needed to do to feel for them.
Every being in every large-brained species does this (consciously or unconsciously)—we must first mentally in-group or out-group an animal before we can choose to care or not care for it. A creature that is one of our kind is given special status. We feel for them the more like us they are. Other less fortunate life forms that might fall victim to a bad turn of events…that’s just life. Boohoo, now we move on, inane platitudes extended.
I wasn’t ready to cry for these things. They were supposed to be higher than rats and rodents, the kind that scurry off when the big carnivore comes, but that didn’t come through. I cared about Bambi's mother getting shot. I cried like a slit-wristed teenybopper when Optimus Prime died, but these creatures didn’t reach my center.
What positive can I say for 9 other than that it was an ominous visual experience? Not much. Work your computer magic till candy wrappers and empty take-out Chinese boxes cover your desk—that won’t replace an intelligently executed storyline. 9 didn’t exceed expectations in that regard.
Of course, not getting my recommendation is not so bad. Falling out of memory? That’s bad! Being mediocre isn’t the worst that can happen…or is it? The big question is, will the film be forgotten in future years? Ironically, 9 could succumb to the fate that the characters in 9 tried to avoid! But if something doesn’t stand out, then it’s already on it’s way to being forgotten, isn't it?
Grade: C- (2 stars)
Director: Shane Acker
Summary: 9 life forms fight for survival in a world where mechanical beasts seek their destruction.
Starring: Christopher Plummer “#1 (voice),” Martin Landau “#2 (voice),” John C. Reilly “#5 (voice),” Crispin Glover “#6 (voice),” Jennifer Connelly “#7 (voice),” Fred Tatasciore “#8 / Radio Announcer (voice),” Elijah Wood “#9 (voice),” Alan Oppenheimer “The Scientist (voice),” Tom Kane “Dictator (voice),” Helen Wilson “Newscaster (voice)”
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Drama / Fantasy / Sci-Fi