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November 5, 2009

I’ve been looking forward to 9 for a while now. The terrific high res trailer seems to have been around forever and the simple “what’s that all about?” intrigue of it’s central premise (a post apocalyptic world inhabited by oddly mechanised ragdolls) fascinating enough to keep me eyeing the release date eagerly.

What a shame, then, that the entire enterprise is suffused with an almost overwhelming sense of disappointment.

Well, maybe not in the first few moments, which do rather pin you down, shut you up and insist you take notice. In that opening, we see the close-up creation of the dolls, hand-sized automata, seemingly made of hessian, but filled with magically vitalised wood and metal, lovingly assembled by a mysterious Geppetto-like inventor. This gentle and enigmatic sequence is the highlight of the movie; it’s quiet care and simply beauty really hold you. Unfortunately, it is over way too soon and afterward we are thrown into an unsatisfying mess.

At less than 80 minutes, 9 seems indecently hasty in its pace, and after introducing its world (a wasted landscape redolent of war-torn Northern France), we are soon learning of the ravages of a recent conflict where man has lost a war to a fascistic machine-driven foe. Only the dolls are left as a reminder of what went before to, er, well, I don’t know what they’re expected to achieve exactly. The purposes of any of the creatures in this ruined set-up seem elusive and unknowable. They don’t know why they’re there, and we don’t either.

They only really define themselves by battling The Beast, a vast many-tentacled mechanical creature who, if it manages to catch the dolls, sucks out a green lifeforce from their bodies. Encounters with the monster are spectacularly choreographed and soullessly boring. And they are almost entirely constant. This is a bang bang bang movie with very little let up.

At one point we get to a breather, where the dolls discover a recording of Judy Garland singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow, and the reflective sequence we have craved is thus undermined by the niggling feeling that this Universe, surely then, isn’t as smartly Alternative as we had been led to believe.

I feel churlish criticising 9 this much. It is clearly a visual treat in many ways, and in every way a labour of great love (it is adapted and expanded from director Shane Acker’s 2004 Oscar-nominated short of the same name) but I’d feel much happier channeling you towards that earlier work, which is pretty wonderful. Does expanding a smaller piece ever really work? They have added big names into the process (Timur Bekmambetov and Tim Burton as producers) and, I’m afraid, have managed to lose a lot along the way.

And the loss comes by adding; too much action. Go back to that beginning. The inventor with his invention. It is fabulous.

I like dark, I like bleak, I am all for a grimly determinist sense of the weight of prior actions composing your fate, and that’s all here…but it is drowned in pyrotechnics and absurd set-pieces.

In any other year, too, 9 may have grabbed the attention effortlessly, but I saw this in an empty 600 seater screen. Next door, the crowd for Up was jostling for space, and therein lies a huge problem. Pixar’s triumph says more about our humanity, about personal resilience, and is darker and yet also more vibrant than anything 9 manages, and so why would you want to see one when the other delivers so much and so consistently?

Two further bugbears of mine are included that I mention simply as a personal irritation; and that is that menace is defined by a horde of scuttling robotic spiders (no more of this, ever again, please), and – in a rather mawkish touch – that returning souls offer a chance for a sentimental valediction. Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop. Please.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2009 12:51 pm

    Such a pity, I’ma huge fan of the original short, and had high hopes for this. Guess I’ll go watch Titan A.E. or the Iron Giant again instead…

  2. November 5, 2009 7:25 pm

    Thanks for dropping by, Luc. No-one was more disappointed than me, after such a long wait, too. Terrible shame, as I say.

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