Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Shane Acker's first feature, '9', set expectations high. The trailer teased a dark and adult animated world. The cast was laudable and intriguing. And Tim Burton's name was plastered all over it... As you may have realized by now, I'm not a fan of producer credits being displayed so prominently in movie marketing. Not that it's a new practice. But Tim Burton must be the most egregiously over-credited filmmaker in Hollywood. And I'm sick of it. That's a whole other column though.
So does '9' live up to its premise? Unfortunately, no. For one, the voice talent is wasted. The film is light on dialogue, and it comes across as expository rather than illuminating. The actors don't have a chance to establish personalities for their characters and don't stand out, aside from Christopher Plummer as 1. (That was Martin Landau? Whaaa?!)
We're thrust into the story, awakening with the title character, 9, and the film sets out to unravel the mystery behind his creation and the destruction of the world as we know it. As a fan of post apocalyptic sci-fi, I was intrigued by the idea of a new perspective on The Wasteland. Quite literally, as our rag-doll protagonists stand no more than a foot high.
The creativity this promised was another aspect of '9' which fell flat. In this LA Times piece, you get a taste of Acker's vision:
The director... points out that the tiny burlap beings at the center of the action see their ravaged home as a place of infinite possibility. "For them, it's just a world of raw materials and they have a very positive experience," said Acker..."They're very creative and they're making contraptions and things to make a better life for themselves."
But it's a meretricious promise. This creativity was only fun for the production designers. The audience doesn't get to partake in the giant junkyard of a world that '9' is set in, nor do we get to witness any gratifying inventing from the heroes. Not even a 'suiting up' montage!
The animation was mostly great, but I couldn't help notice how flat the textures of the 'burlap' were in close-ups of the protagonists.
Design was largely uninspired- the villains felt patched together from various video games and the heroes fell along the typical group stereotypes: grumpy leader, enthusiastic newby, dopey-grunt-who-turns-out-to-be-okay, nerd, creepy twins, and the raggedy version of Alice from Resident Evil.
Ultimately, '9' felt like a video game. Action scene after action scene, boss fight after boss fight. Let me qualify that statement: I love video games. It's not meant to be an insult as it's often used. It's just that with its minimal storyline and emphasis on action, I wanted to be playing it, not watching it.
'9' avoids the recent trend to expand beyond its comfort zone, and runs a refreshing 80 minutes. It's worth note as a first effort. Keep an eye on Shane Acker. If '9' is a tease of his talent, there are improvements to come.
Also, you can watch the original short. It's 11 minutes and it actually captures more character and ingenuity than the feature. Unfortunately, it's in crappy, crappy, crappy youtube-definition video. When the hell are they gonna get better online video... ok that's another column too.