Shane Acker’s 9 began life as an 11-minute short for which he received an Oscar nomination. It’s an interesting and creative oddity and anyone who enjoyed this will be pleased to discover that the feature length version retains the ‘stitchpunk’ aesthetic of the original, as well as the extremely dark mood.

That Tim Burton is on board one of the producers is no surprise given the look and feel of the film. The post-apocalyptic world Acker has created is stylish but in the bleakest possible industrial way, a world where machines rule the roost and humans have ceased to exist. The titular 9 is the last of a series of man-made creations whose role on earth is unclear except apparently to survive. And survival is no easy matter with The Beast, a dog-like robot eager to take as many of the ‘numbers’ as possible. It soon becomes clear that a bigger plan is at work and that the future hinges on a talisman, a piece of ancient technology that The Great Machine (also made by the scientist who created 9) requires to function as it was created.

If this all seems a bit vague and mysterious that’s because it is and to a certain extent is part of the film’s charm. It’s also slightly frustrating because while it’s easy to sympathise with the little creations and their seemingly impossible plight, not knowing what it’s all about takes away some of the empathy. In a sense, this means that Acker has succeeded but as a viewer I spent too long trying to figure it all out and as result wasn’t fully engaged in the world the director has so painstakingly created. It’s clearly a labour of love and the detail is tremendous, even if some of it feels a bit like leftover parts from the Terminator films.

The voice talents are well cast with Elijah Wood particularly suited to his role as the determined but emotional 9, while Christopher Plummer plays old-timer 1 to a tee. Jennifer Connelly (7) and John C. Reilly (5) don’t really get much of a chance to show their respective talents and having seen the original short, the thought occurs that actually 9 might be more effective without speech. Perhaps this couldn’t be sustained for 80 minutes but in the end the dialogue feels a tad clunky at times and their not-robot but not-quite-human communication doesn’t always seem to translate into believable speech.

This is a highly imaginative, thoughtful and well-realised piece of work and in a time when mind-numbing remakes are two-a-penny, such a venture is to be admired. On the other hand, while never boring, 9 is not immediately accessible due to its uber-dark tone and high concept ideas. It feels like there's a really clever story in there somewhere but Acker can't quite get it out satisfactorily. Maybe in a few years this will become a cult classic but on first viewing seems not to be the masterpiece it could have been.

Official Site
9 at IMDb

Justin Bateman is a Screenjabber contributor

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