Film review by: Witney Seibold


“9” is a film about living dolls made of cloth and metal, who roam about a deserted, post-war ruin, trying to escape a still-operational war machine that is bent on destroying all forms of life. And that’s pretty much it. We do eventually learn why the dolls have life, but we don’t spend a lot of the movie discussing their nature, the nature of the war machine, why these creatures behave the way they do, or the true nature of the conflict that turned this place into a ruin.

Elijah Wood plays #9, the newest and smartest of the dolls created by a now-dead Frankenstein-like doctor who has invented a machine that can give life and intelligence to inanimate objects. Numbers 1 through 8 have been hiding out in a church away from a robotic menace that they call The Beast. #9 wishes to find the origins of the beast and destroy it. #1 (Christopher Plummer) is of the opinion that hiding is the best course of survival, and waiting until the robot powers down entirely. Also in the cast are John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, and Jennifer Connelly.

The film is surprisingly trim on story, choosing instead to be an extended chase sequence where our little dolls run in and out of dangerous areas shouting at one another. As a chase sequence, I suppose it works fine. I just like my films to have some sort of actual mystery, intelligence, climax to them.

The film’s visuals are astonishing. Our main characters look like little voodoo dolls with camera lenses for eyes, and they were a wonder to behold. I like the innovation in the improvised tools they make, and I especially liked the pieced-together look of some of the monsters. The Beast looks like a cross between a giant mechanical spider and a car assembly line.

But the setup is so interesting, that I wanted to know more. Why did we go to war? What year is this? Are there any humans left in the world? If so, where are they? If not, why is the evil killing machine still operational? How do the dolls have certain kinds of intelligence (they can build tools), but not others (they don’t know what a dead body is)? Where do their personalities come from? How come Tim Burton, the film’s producer, didn’t direct? And if you’re going to make a film about living dolls wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape, why make it CGI? Wouldn’t it be more powerful to animate the film in stop-motion, hence making the dolls… actual dolls?

I learned after I saw it that director Shane Acker had adapted this feature from an 8-minute short film he made at UCLA back in 2006. I think as an 8-minute short, “9” would have been all the most astonishing. As a feature, it’s a beautiful wonder to look at and an exciting action fluff with no real substance.

Published in: on September 11, 2009 at 12:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

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