Film Review 2017 - #16 '9'

9 (2009)

I had high hopes for this.  Funky-looking little robot creatures in a post-apocalyptic landscape; produced by the company responsible for the awesome Coraline; Tim Burton on the production team; and I’m a sucker for clever animated movies.

The animation is indeed amazing; but the cleverness is not.

The film’s premise is that the humans and the machines have obliterated one another in a war and that, like wee mammals after the dinosaurs had that incident with the asteroid, a small community of robots made from cloth, zips and some nifty electronics are all that’s left.

Not quite all, of course, because some baddies have survived too, and the film’s story-line is essentially concerned with a fight between the baddies and the little cloth robots.  (There are nine of the little cloth robots, and the ninth – called 9 – is the ‘hero’, hence the title for the movie.)

What sort of values do the little robots have?  What sort of world might they make if they win?  Do they compete with one another or do they collaborate?  Does victory lie through cunning, hard-work or magic?  What message do they have for us, those of us living in the ‘real world’ where the humans and the machines are trying to figure out how to live together?

Plenty of room, methinks, to explore these issues.

Instead, 9 is just messy.  Things are teed up and then abandoned.  Characters are almost developed but then drift away.  Ideas are half-formulated and then ignored.  Scenes happen, and then there are more scenes, but the joins are opaque or confusing.  Worst of all, the ‘rules of the game’, the film’s internal logic, simply doesn’t function properly.

It’s only pretend, of course, and it’s all computer-generated stuff, but if the ‘suspension of disbelief’ is to work – which it surely must if art is to fulfil its aims and obligations – then the internal logic of the thing has to work.  We can buy into little cloth robots that know how to talk and use tools, and it makes sense if they then use some amazing tool to climb or run or kill a baddie.  But it doesn’t make sense if they suddenly use, say, magic powers, powers that they didn’t use a moment ago when they could have done.  Or if their size makes something hard for them one moment but not the next.  And so on.

So whilst I absolutely loved the rendering of the little cloth robots, and the steam-punk landscape and machinery was fascinating to look at, I did not enjoy the experience of sitting through this film.  Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh – it was, after all, just an animated movie – but in these dark and strange times, I think it’s reasonable to hope that a film about the war between the humans and the machines will at least help us to think about it a bit.  9, unfortunately, didn’t do that, which is a shame.


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