There are nine of them in the computer-animated movie, nine little beings stitched together out of scraps. Burlap sock puppets, rag dolls with lenses for eyes. The eyes are surprisingly expressive. They live in rubble and try to keep from being destroyed by hound-like mechanical creatures that scout around the refuse, looking for signs of organic life to snatch. Despite their constructed appearance, you just know that these nine little beings are somehow organic.
At the end of 9, I was high on the movie. The creativity, the details, the melancholy wonder of it all. I loved the design of the little beings, especially 9, with a zipper down his burlap front allowing him to store items he wants or needs. But how does he work? Where are his innards, where is the framework that allows him to move? I thought about that for a few seconds, then let it go, electing to marvel instead of deconstruct.
I came down later. Partly because that's usually how it works when I get high on a movie, partly because some of the complaints I read about the film were valid. Some reviewers grumbled that the whole post-apocalyptic genre had been done to death. The plot was as thin as a naughty child's alibi. The action scenes were intrusive. Clearly the filmmakers, realizing that their movie was geared more towards adults, wedged in as many action set pieces as possible to win the younger crowd.
Over the weekend, I rolled around my feelings about the film, and what I came up with is this. Bitching about movies set in a post-apocalyptic world is as pointless as complaining that a movie is set in the Wild West. It's not about where the film takes place, it's about whether or not it works. Yes, the plot is thin, but I didn't care about the plot — I just wanted to see more of these small beings and their fascinating culture. As for the action scenes — indeed, they were intrusive, but not enough to take me out of the movie. And at least the action was visually easy to track.
9 is a feature-length expansion of an 11-minute film by Shane Acker that received an Academy Award nomination in 2005. Acker refers to the little beings as "stitch punks," which reflects an attitude I didn't see on screen. The beings are survivors, not posers. You can view the short film online — I suggest you wait until after you see the movie.
In the short film, the creatures were mute. In the 79-minute feature, they talk and the actors that provide the voices are Elijah Wood (No. 9), John C. Reilly (No. 5), Jennifer Connelly (No. 7), Christopher Plummer (No. 1), Crispin Glover (No. 6), Martin Landau (No. 2) and Fred Tatasciore (No. 8). Two of the beings — twins — are mute, but use their lenses to project historic footage.
The atmosphere in 9 is bleak, but the characters refuse to succumb. Neither did I. Most of the complaints about the production are valid - focus on them if you want. How better, though, to let this mesmerizing, touching, intense and frightening otherworldly tale just wash over you? 79 minutes.