Occasionally, and just occasionally, one will come across a movie where the visuals are so appealing, so astounding, so utterly fantastic that they are able to carry a film where the plot is at best half-conveyed, and more likely not fully conceived. 9 (2009), being released to Blu-ray this week, is just such a film, and is worth checking out in high definition for its wondrous look if for nothing else.
Directed and with a story by Shane Acker – who initially made a short of the same name for his UCLA thesis project – 9 is 3D computer-generated animation at its finest. The film, which was produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov amongst others, takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, one that saw its apocalypse in, as is stated in some of the extras included with the Blu-ray, something of a 1920s or 1930s vision of the future. A mechanical age future, if you will. The evil machines – and there are evil machines – are steel-looking with exposed rivets and rather angular.
The basic story – and it really only is ever a basic story – revolves around a little rag doll (voiced by Elijah Wood) with the number "9" on his back coming to life and trying to figure out what exactly this world he's in is all about. He quickly meets others like him, including the officious 1 (Christopher Plummer); wise, if perhaps a little off-kilter, 2 (Martin Landau); and rather simple 5 (John C. Reilly). 9 quickly learns that his world has suffered a massive amount of death and destruction and that outside of a mechanical beast that has kidnapped 2, the rag dolls may all be alone.
Over the course of the film, 9 opts to try to rescue 2 and only makes things a whole lot worse before they wondrously get better by the end of the film (though not without some of his compatriots meeting their end). 9 also manages to find an answer to the only question that really holds the viewers' interest in any way – what exactly happened to the world in which they live.
Watching 9 one gets the sense that Acker knows everything about this world he's created, but has trouble – or maybe it's Pamela Pettler's screenplay that has the trouble – conveying what he knows. The world itself is a fascinating place – as are the dolls – but the audience is never let in on it. Instead, we are always forced to watch the goings-on from a distance and are not accepted into the fold.