Thursday, September 10, 2009

Movie Review: 9

Expectations for 9 were quite high. The original short video, easily found on YouTube, is breathtaking to behold. The promise of a full length version was enticing, to say the least. Of course, it is a bit of an exaggeration to describe 9 as "a full length film": at under an hour and a half, it goes by faster than we might like.

The good news is that the experience 9 offers is a good one. For all its faults - and sadly, there are several - this is a movie that understands the importance of tone and setting. There are lighter moments, from time to time, but there is no slapstick or the like: it works hard to construct a mood, and it never betrays it.

This is, as advertised, a post-apocalyptic animated film about stitchpunk creations battling horrors of science and war. Further, from all indications, the apocalyptic war which created this world seems to have occurred in the 1940's. The technological horrors are, by today's standards, antiques, as are the toys. As such, this is more War of the Worlds than The Matrix, though there are echoes of both in 9.

The setting is intriguing; equal parts beautiful and terrifying. It is the sort of environment many of us have imagined but never thought we'd see on film (at least not an American film). For this, the filmmakers deserve commendation. Likewise, the monsters, unliving creations of forgotten science fiction and dark power, are incredible to behold. And the heroes, when willing to turn and fight, match them with savage precision: these battles are nothing short of awesome.

If only there had been a decent plot. Instead, 9 follows a story we know too well: we've played through such tales back on the Nintendo Entertainment System, before advancements in video game technology necessitated more intricate stories.

In a less fascinating environment, such a fault would feel less significant. But the world of 9 demands depth and meaning beyond what its story can deliver. A pity. This could have been something spectacular; instead it is merely good.

But do not despair: it is still good. It is a joy to watch its wonders and cringe at its terrors, even if it never really transcends the level of eye-candy.

Rather than scale this against Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline, we are reminded instead of Miyazaki, the true master of tone and setting in post-apocalyptic animation. If the pinnacles of his work represents five star pictures, then we see 9 as deserving of three. The artists behind 9 share Miyazaki's talent for building worlds; it's a pity they lacked his ability to craft a nuanced story, as well.

No comments: