Based on Shane Acker's Oscar-nominated 2006 short film, the feature-length version of 9 is a spectacular visual feast for the eyes with a dark, mysterious sensibility. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, it definitely isn't your typical kids animated film, with things just a little bit on the bleak side of the spectrum, which is the reason Tim Burton hopped on board to produce, one would realistically assume.
In just the first few shots I was entranced by the stunning visuals. Every little detail in the ravaged world is clear and crisp. Life as we know it may have ended, but with high-definition animation that looks this good, it's simply a black beauty. The film is centred around a miniscule android, 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood), suited up in a burlap sack to cover up his components. After he awakens to discover the desolate ruins of earth, 9 joins forces with a team of other flea-sized androids, individually numbered from 1 to 9, as they find themselves in the middle of a hideous battle with a Transformer-esque, spider-like killing machine known as the Beast, which emaciates the souls from the sack people by draining them with a blinding light force. In between fleeing for their tiny little lives, the androids quest to eliminate the colossal threat by seeking out the only key to its mechanical demise.
The reason for the end of the world is down to a war between humanity and robots. Created to aid the military, the robots turn against those who brought them to artificial life and chaos soon reigns, with humanity made extinct because of a horrific gas. The war is something that could have been explored in much greater detail, and is one of many issues that I have with the film.
First and foremost, the running time of the actual film, sans credits, is just 72 minutes. Now, I have no problem with such a slim running time if that is all that the story honestly requires; if it's tight, I'd be happy with those 72 minutes, but in the case of 9 the story just isn't there. The vision of the post-apocalyptic future is uniquely outstanding; a world submerged in darkness and reduced to nothing more than dust and the last fragments of man-made construction, but everything outside of the style window is bland. The protagonist 9's awakening to the world is followed by nothing more than an almost instantaneous drop into conflict and a series of weak introductions to the various other sack-droids. There is barely any development to the characters. One thing that Shane Acker mentions on the Blu-ray's extras is that he wanted the visuals to speak for the characters and didn't want much dialogue to explain things - but that will only get you so far - and 9 is a perfect example of this. The dialogue is so nail-on-the-head that it fails to hold your interest. There isn't much of a story despite the endless potential, merely a 72-minute quest that barely unravels any surprises. You would really be hard-pressed to call it an adventure.
With such an engrossing sandbox - being the darkly beautiful destruction of the future world - creating so many possibilities, why the film-makers decided to go with an ark so weak I do not know. It is a shame, but the hard work cannot be ignored. The film is a remarkably valiant effort in visuals, but falls short in story-telling. 9 is without a doubt an example of style over substance.
EXTRAS **** Five deleted scenes, 9 – The Long and the Short of It; a look at the making of the film and a comparison to the original short, On Tour with Shane Acker; the director's guided tour through the Starz Animation building, The Look of 9, Acting Out; the performances of the film, the original short film (with an option for commentary with Shane Acker), and a feature commentary with Shane Acker, Animation Director Joe Ksander, Head of Story Ryan O'Loughlin and Editor Nick Kenway. Also includes the usual Universal Pictures BD-Live features.