Back in 2005, Shane Acker created an 11 minute short called “9.” Now four years later, Acker is back and he brought some Hollywood friends along this time. Produced by Tim Burton, 9 takes an otherwise blasé and mundane story about a fore-coming apocalypse produced by Machine v. Man warfare and dresses it up in CGI clothing.
Instead of following a band of last remaining humans, the film puts a rag-tag group of…rag dolls at the center of the narrative, following a repetitive formula the whole way through. 1) A machine threat is produced. 2) Our heroes defeat the threat. 3) They talk. Rinse and repeat.
The charm of the silent original has faded away leaving behind a husk of its former self, stuffed to its ears in production values unable to stand on their own.
Many of the film’s artistic choices are entirely too reminiscent of other films. The machines look as if they were cut directly from The Matrix and spliced in with a CGI retool. Some shots are shockingly resemblant of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, especially one particular crane shot that features two main characters in the forefront and a set of ominous towers in deep focus.
The anti-technology sentiments may well have been ripped right out of The Terminator and I, Robot. Technology is bad, especially in the hands of bad people; audiences have been spoon-fed this message since the term “sci-fi” was first coined.
Those complaints aside, aesthetically, 9 is attractive and pleasing. Acker’s designs are superb; the different self-made monsters that the machines build leave the viewer curious as to what will come next. These ingenious designs—taking after various intimidating animals—save the film from drowning in its formulaic narrative.
Overall, 9 felt confused with what kind of movie it wanted to be: intense, sci-fi horror, or family-friendly cartoon. While most scenes are suspenseful and compositionally disheartening, the ending is much more Disney than the original short (and less satisfying).
9 is a huge disappointment. What could have been an interesting and dark stand-out picture was torn in two between the box office and artistic integrity. The only remaining qualities of its former rendition—a haunting soundtrack and unique character design—luckily saves it from the Dreamworks graveyard of CGI film.