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9: Awesome Robot Pterodactyl

September 23, 2009

Warning: this blog post contains spoilers for the movie 9 (though not the spoiler for the really big secret).

9 does something that a lot of major, well-funded movies are not willing to do: it kills off characters. And it hurts. The MPAA’s rating of PG-13 is appropriate, so brace yourself for a difficult but thrilling ride.

At only 81 minutes, Shane Ackerman’s debut movie does not contain one iota of flab. A machine called the Brain has turned against us and wiped out humanity. The only survivors are nine little hackey-sack dolls. The Brain is still out there. It must be stopped, and it’s going to cost them.

As a matter of fact, the very tightness of the plot is one of the things I have to complain about the movie. 9’s creative team seems to be holding itself back from long, self-indulgent panning shots, but since the movie is so short anyway, I wouldn’t have minded slowing down to wander around in the neat world they’ve created a bit more. Only the major strokes of each doll’s personality are sketched out, and I think there could have been more there if they’d dug deeper.

But who the heck am I kidding? The robot pterodactyl was sweet.

On a technical note, I admire Ackerman & Co’s work at balancing the dolls’ narrative roles. I know from writing that when a bunch of characters have the same job, like members of a crime-fighting team, it’s hard to keep them from interfering with each other. Notice how the movie introduces the characters gradually and never allows all nine of the dolls to be in the same room together just to keep things from getting symmetrical. 3 and 4 are twins, so they have a different relationship to each other than they do to the other teammates, and there’s some factionation going on, so 1 and 8 are closer to each other than to the others.

9 is visually stunning, artistic, but also dismaying. The ending will leave you with a big, “But now what are they going to do?” It’s tempting to compare 9 to Wall-E, since they’re both post-apocalyptic animated films with cute robots for main characters. See Wall-E and then see 9 to cut the sweet, or better yet, see 9 and then see Wall-E to help you recover.

It’s true that the characters in 9 are simplistically done, but I’m still not going to forget 2 for a long time.

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