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 was given the spark of life by a scientist in the final days of humanity, and they continue to exist post-apocalypse. Another of their own, #9 (voiced by Elijah Wood), emerges and displays leadership qualities that may help them survive and possibly even thrive. The conflicted but resilient tribe already includes #1 (Christopher Plummer), a domineering war veteran and the group's longtime leader; #2 (Martin Landau), a kindly but now-frail inventor; #3 and #4, scholarly twins who communicate nonverbally and mostly with each other; #5 (John C. Reilly), a stalwart and nurturing engineer; #6 (Crispin Glover), an erratic artist beset by visions; #7 (Jennifer Connelly), a brave and self-sufficient warrior; and #8 (Fred Tatasciore), the none-too-bright muscle and enforcer for #1.
With their group so few, these "stitchpunk" creations must summon individual strengths well beyond their own proportions in order to outwit and fight against still-functioning machines, one of which is a marauding mechanized beast. In the darkness just before the dawn, #9 rallies everyone of his number to band together.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Some critics railed against '9' when it debuted in theaters, saying that the lack of story and plot was a detriment to the movie. The overly simplistic and supposedly clichéd post-apocalyptic story setting had already been done. I would submit that there are times where "story" and "plot" can be sacrificed for something that is so visually stunning and awe-inspiring to the imagination. The new film directed by Shane Acker, and produced by Tim Burton is just that kind of film. '9' uses a simplistic end of the world story as a backdrop for some of the most creative and bizarre animation ever created.
Sentient machines have taken over the earth. They've gassed all the humans. Where cities once stood, mountains of rubble now rule. Nine burlap sock-puppet-like creatures are living and scavenging off of the dead earth and the stuff that's been left behind. Not a lot is explained about these odd little creatures at the beginning of the film, but not to worry, their existence is explained later on. The beauty of the film is that even if you knew nothing of their existence – like the original short film by Acker – these puppets are still so interesting to look at and study that you'll find yourself not caring much about their origins.
The puppets have been meticulously constructed from all sorts of materials. Their eyes work like camera shutters. Some have fashioned weapons out of old knives and scissors. The amount of design and creativity involved with the creatures is stunning.
If you're looking for much meaning here, you're missing the point. We're supposed to be almost as clueless and helpless as these puppets are. Everything is shown from the puppet's point of view. They are small, which makes everything in the world all that much more terrifying and unknown.
There are monsters here too. A dog-like machine scours the streets to find these puppets. There's a snake-like beast that is so frighteningly vivid, Sid from 'Toy Story' would have nightmares about it.
Each puppet has a number scrawled on its back, one through nine. They all have very distinct personalities. One is domineering and stubborn. Two is kind and helpful. On the personality traits go up through the puppets, courage, intelligence, creativity. Nine is the most curious of the bunch. When the "secret" of the puppets' origins is revealed, figuring out what the different personalities are and how they relate to their origins is part of the fun.
After surviving an attack from a monster machine sporting a dog's skull as its head, Nine sets off towards a factory looming in the distance that can only contain dreadful things. He soon awakens something, and what follows is an action-packed sequence that rivals some big budget action movies, yet the action here isn't quick cutting and nauseating. Camera angels pan and zoom in on the action, letting the bleak but oddly beautiful apocalyptic world wash over us.
'9' is enthralling on many levels. Its animation is unlike most animated films out there. Its story is haunting in its portrayal of humanity, but still gives us hope for a better future. The 75-minute runtime is packed full of action and storytelling that ooze with creativity. It's a wondrously beautiful epic of an animated film.
The 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer for '9' is nearly flawless, and for all intents and purposes can be considered a fine demo-worthy disc. This animation works tremendously well on Blu-ray. The palette here is a dim one, but what do you expect, the world just ended! Lots of dark scenes, but blacks are perfectly blended. Delineation is revealing. While the movie is bathed in browns and blacks, the giant red eye of The Machine leaps off the screen in stunning clarity. Speaking of clarity, fine detail is pumped up to maximum, rivaling any of the recent releases by Pixar. The stitching and the crosshatch of the puppets is always discernible and clear. At one point in the film a very, very slight bit of aliasing can be detected around The Machine. Other than that, this is a top notch video presentation.
When I heard this film in theaters I knew, without a doubt, that if done right, the sound here would be some of the most demo-worthy bass to ever be put on Blu-ray. I'm happy to report that the DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track will most likely shake the foundation of your house. The bass here is deep, resonant, and freakishly strong. The deep, foreboding tones gives The Machine and its monster children more creepiness than can be imagined. There is some slightly soft speaking here and some of the voices are drowned out at times by the hustle and bustle of the break-neck action. Everything else though, is done to perfection. If you want to show someone what high definition bass sounds like, stick this film in.
- Audio Commentary - Director Shane Acker is joined with part of his crew head of story Ryan O'Laughlin, animation director Joe Ksander, and editor Nick Kenway are all present in this fairly informative commentary track. They all have a good chemistry together, and the conversation rarely lags as commentaries seem to do at times. Acker is always excited to discuss parts of the production, and seeing his short film turned into a feature-length animated film.
- The Original Short (SD, 11 min) - You can see the original short that Acker created as his thesis project in film school. Tim Burton saw this short and was immediately interested in producing a full-length version. This film is full of imaginative creativity, and is just as exciting to watch as the feature itself. There's no dialogue here, but none is needed. There is also optional commentary with Acker and Ksander available here. Acker has such deep admiration for the original short that it's fun to hear him talk about it.
- The Long and Short of It (HD, 16 min) - A nice, fluff-free, making-of piece that has interviews from everyone from Elijah Wood and Martin Landau to Timur Bekmambetov and Tim Burton. This is an insightful and thoughtful featurette that takes us through what it was like taking an 11-minute short and creating a full-length film from it.
- On Tour with Shane Acker (HD, 6 min) - Acker gives us brief tours of the different departments that worked on the film. It really is amazing to see how many people it took to make '9,' when it only took Acker and no one else to make the first short.
- The Look of 9 (HD, 13 min) - Another nice featurette that mainly sticks to the unusual aesthetics of '9.' From character design to the feel of the world after war, it's all covered here.
- Acting Out (HD, 5 min) - The animation department talks about what it's like creating emotional and communicative performances with these odd characters.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 7 min) - Five deleted scenes here, but they aren't comprised of finalized polished up animation. For the most part they are just storyboards that were never fully animated.
'9' is a stunning piece of creativity that will shock the eye. Its images are so intricate that they spring to life automatically. I love this film. The spectacular audio and video only help solidify this as a highly recommended title that can, for the most part, be used as demo material from your home theater setup.
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