9 (2009) Voices by Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Crispin Glover, Martin Landau, Fred Tatasciore Directed by Shane Acker Screenplay by Pamela Pettler Based on 9 (2005) a short film by Shane Acker. Produced by Timur Bekmambetov, Tim Burton, Dana Ginsburg, Jim Lemley. Run Time: 79 minutes USA Animated, Science Fiction, Fantasy
If you need proof that you don’t need to make sense to be engaging, then look no further than 9, a computer animated film directed by Shane Acker, based on a short student film he made while attending UCLA four years earlier.
Try to imagine Sackboy from the Playstation video game series LittleBigPlanet in a post-apocalyptic dystopia and you’re getting close to what the film is like. The film follows the life of 9 (Elijah Wood), a sewn together robot created by a Scientist (Alan Oppenheimer) at the end of a war between man and machines. The last act the scientist does is to “inject” some of his soul, if you will, into his creation, in a last gamble to preserve humanity.
|In his last act, the Scientist (Alan Oppenheimer) infuses life into 9 (Elijah Wood).|
After the scientist dies, 9 comes to life but has no idea where he is. He finds a strange object on the floor and instinctively picks it up and puts it inside his body, which conveniently has a zipper down the front. Everywhere around him is destruction. When he sees something moving outside he ventures out and runs into a similar creature, 2 (Martin Landau). (Each rag doll has a crudely drawn number on their backs and has adopted those numbers as their names.) 2 recognizes 9 as one of his kind and helps him by giving a voice box. But the familial reunion is disrupted when a cat-like mechanical creature attacks. In the struggle, both 2 and the device 9 has on him are taken away by the cat.
|2 (Martin Landau) recognizes 9 as one of his own.|
Knocked out in the fight, 9 has been retrieved by 5 (John C. Reilly), a one-eyed “brother” who has taken him to the Sanctuary, a loft in a church where similar robot dolls are safe under the dictatorial eye of 1 (Christopher Plummer), who has taken on the appearance of a pope. 1 maintains control over the others in the flock with the help of 8 (Fred Tatasciore), a larger version of the dolls who seems to be an expert in weapons. In addition to 1, 5 and 8, there is also 6 (Crispin Glover), who apparently received any artistic genes the scientist had. He continually draws three objects on paper that is hanging around the Sanctuary.
|9 watches as 6 (Crispin Glover) draws three objects.|
9 wants to go after 2, but 1 forbids it, mostly because of the danger involved in venturing outside the sanctuary. 1 considers 2 to be as good as dead, but 9 has seen where he was taken and convinces 5 to help him rescue 2. Through the pockmarked wasteland, 5 and 9 stumble with the help of a map. They discover the cave through which the cat-machine has gone and follow him.
|The environment they exist in is a post-apocalyptic wasteland.|
The tunnel leads to a long-ago abandoned factory, where they find 2, who is still alive but guarded by the cat-beast. They try to quietly rescue 2, but the cat-beast hears them and attacks. They are rescued by 7 (Jennifer Connelly), who appears from nowhere and slays the cat. All is not okay for very long.
|7 (Jennifer Connelly) rescues 2, 5 and 9 from the cat-beast.|
Having recovered the object, 9 notices that it seems to be designed to fit into an interface and curiosity gets the better of him and he plugs it in. As soon as it seals, it is already too late. A large machine with arms springs to life, grabs the newly rescued 2 and drains him of his soul, leaving him dead, while the other three manage to escape.
|9's curiosity leads to the Machine coming to life and killing 2.|
7 takes 9 and 5 to the library, where two more sock robots, 3 and 4, reside. They’re twins and their only function seems to be categorizing what is left of man’s intellect in the form of the printed word. Unable to speak, the two communicate with each other using their eyes like semaphores. 3 and 4 can also project what they’ve learned like a film for the others to watch. It is now that we find out about the origins of the world they live in.
|At the library, 9 watches a film that 3 and 4 project from their eyes.|
The scientist who created them also created a fabrication machine that is seized by the dictator who used to the run the unnamed country. The B.R.A.I.N., as it was called, will be used by the dictator to create weapons and armaments that will give him greater power. But the B.R.A.I.N. decides that humans are the real enemy and starts to build machines in its image. With its robot army, the B.R.A.I.N. directs an attack on all humans. A deadly gas is released which wipes out the humans as well as all other life on the planet.
|The Chancellor (Tom Kane) orders the building of the B.R.A.I.N. below, |
which is capable of fabricating just about anything.
9 realizes then that the object which brought the B.R.A.I.N. back to life looks like the drawings 6 was doing at the Sanctuary. 9 and 5 then return to investigate but are caught by 1. But before too long, the B.R.A.I.N. dispatches a winged machine which attacks the Sanctuary. This leads to a battle in which 7, who joins in on the fight, is injured. Working together, 9, 5 and 8 manage to defeat the winged machine and save 1.
|1 (Christopher Plummer) is the self-appointed leader of the robot dolls.|
Forced out of their sanctuary, the robots return to the library. There 6, 3 and 4 reveal the origins of the object 9 found. 1 is not happy about that and chastises the group. He then reveals that he sent 2 out on a mission to die. This news enrages 7, who wants to kill 1 for his actions, but is stopped by 9 from doing so.
A new robot, a snakelike machine, is sent to the library and manages to capture both 7 and 8 by sewing up into their body. While the bot manages to escape with the two in its body, the group manages to recover 2’s body and give it a proper burial.
The group heads out to the Factory to destroy the fabrication machine. 9 goes in by himself, where he sees 8’s soul being absorbed before managing to save 7. When they get out of the Factory, the others light an oil drum on fire, which appears to destroy the Factory.
|The robots manage to light an oil drum which destroys the Factory where the B.R.A.I.N. is.|
Thinking they’ve killed the fabrication machine, the group celebrates, listening to Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow” from the Wizard of Oz (1939). But the celebration is premature. The main machine has not been destroyed with the Factory and, in fact, comes after the group. 6 is captured and his soul is drained, but before he dies, he tells 9 to return to the Scientist’s lab for the answers.
At the scientist’s lab, he finds a holographic message from his creator, informing 9 that all of the robots he created are a little bit of himself, making them the best hope for the continuation of humanity. The creator also explains that the object can also be used against the Fabrication Machine to free the souls trapped inside.
9 tells the others his plan to free the others by allowing himself to be absorbed by the Machine, giving the others the chance to remove the object. 1 starts out against the plan, but in the end, has a change of heart and pushes 9 out of the way, sacrificing himself to the machine. Using the object, 1 manages to free the trapped souls and destroy the machine.
In a ceremony, the souls of 1, 2, 5, 6 and 8 are released and ascend into the sky. The remaining four set out to make the world their own. As they walk away, it starts to rain. Inside the raindrops are glowing flecks of bacteria which symbolizes the return of life to the planet.
|In a ceremony at the end of the film, the souls of the departed are released.|
The film is not intended for children with its dystopic post-apocalyptic setting. Nor are the themes it deals with kid-friendly. There is a moral component to the story in addition to its Terminator reminiscent man vs. machine storyline. As with all films in this vein, man always loses the battle, but ultimately triumphs in the end, even if it means surviving to fight another day.
Both man and machine are presented with having God complexes. Is it an accident that the movie quotes the bible, saying the Fabrication Machine makes other machines in its own image? Man, in the form of the scientist, not only creates the machine but also creates the fabric robots which are all a part of him, though not physically in his image.
And there is the ever-present concept of a soul, which in the end ascends to heaven the same way Jesus did in the bible. The soul is what makes the robots more than just machines, but the protectors of humanity, which is a pretty tall order.
There are a lot of things in the film that it never explains. While the robots are supposedly known as Stitchpunks, I don’t recall this ever being mentioned in the movie. There is no explanation as well for what stopped the Fabrication machine in the first place nor why the cat-like machine, in the beginning, survived when all the others seemed to have stopped.
These plot holes aside, the film is still very engaging. You want these little fabric robots to succeed, the same way you would a live-action character, which is sort of an accomplishment in itself. The voice acting is also strong which also helps to make the characters more human as well.
The introduction of a strong female character, 7, without the need to glorify her is what films should be doing; creating diverse characters without stopping to pat themselves on the back while doing it. All of the actors have distinctive voices which works well to help separate the robots from one another.
Visually, the wasteland of humankind is represented in muted colors, but in a believable manner. Not too much is made of the destruction, since this seems to be the environment all the robots are familiar with; in fact, they probably wouldn’t exist if everything was rosy and the sky was filled with rainbows.
In the end, though, 9 is sort of disappointing. If all nine make up the whole of humanity, how can only four characters, each imbued with only a few pieces of the scientists’ soul, really carry on without the other five? I would recommend the film, but with a caveat; don’t expect more from the film than it can deliver.