9 originally began as a short film by Shane Acker; begun in the early years of this millennium and completed in 2005. The film came to the attention of Tim Burton after being played at the Indianopolis Film Festival and he expressed a desire to produce the feature-length film with Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch/Day Watch/Wanted).
It is easy to see why Burton was so impressed with the visual style of the film. While it does draw heavily from other post-apocalyptic flicks, it feels like a new world, rather than an amalgamation of familiar locales. This probably has something to do with the glimpses of propaganda-like imagery we see in the opening narration. Is it England? We don’t really know, but whatever the country, it seems to have been under the control of a totalitarian government with enemies of a vague nature. Very 1984. A scientist is tasked with creating a new generation of smart weapons. This scientist provides the opening narration which sets the scene and describes the creation of 9, a puppet apparently sewn from burlap.
We discover that the world has been decimated by the new weapons, who turned on their masters, as sentient killing machines are wont to do. The only animated things in this dead world are the puppets, like 9, created by the scientist as the world spun out of control, and a hunting robot the size and shape of a cat, whose provenance is unknown. This robot captures another puppet very near the beginning of the film, and the mission to rescue this puppet provides the impetus for most of the movie.
This movie looks good. The world is interesting, though not completely original. These are really the only two facets of the film that are worth discussing. This is Shane Acker’s first attempt at a feature-length and I have to say, it shows. Even at only 80 minutes, the plot seems shallow and dragged out. The plot is also fairly meaningless – the rescue goes ahead, then a character makes a terrible mistake, which awakens a larger enemy. They must then destroy this enemy to undo the mistake. Basically, 9 is the story of 9 animated puppets with no particular goal or drive, who keep making stupid mistakes. The characters are fun but are nothing more than caricatures. The conservative leader of the original puppets, 1, is entirely inconsistent in his actions, serving only to provide artificial challenges for 9 to overcome. It keeps the action moving but significantly reduces the impact of that action.
9 is not a bad movie, it’s just not particularly good. Kids will love it for the mild scares and the characters, but adults looking for a bit more meat could be much better served.