9 Isn’t Quite a Revolution

nine 2 focus features 9 Isnt Quite a Revolution9
Running time 79 minutes
Written by Pamela Pettler
Directed by Shane Acker
Starring Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connolly, Crispin Glover

In 2004, a UCLA film student named Shane Acker created an 11-minute animated short called 9 that people lost their minds over. It earned him an Academy Award nomination and brought all sorts of interest from established filmmakers like Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted), who signed on as producers to expand the short film into a feature. Which brings us to what will soon be in theaters: a supersize version not content on just being titled 9 but also released on Sept. 9 (9/09/09—get it?). Which in turn brings us to this film’s main problem: As opposed to something fresh and original, 9 feels exactly like an extended remix, like a song that suddenly plays on someone’s stereo with a fifth stanza and extra chorus you never once heard on the radio. (Who needs ’em?) One wonders, in fact, if 9 should have stuck with its original short format. 

The movie presents us with a post-apocalyptic vision of a future where machines have wiped out all humans and life on earth as we know it. (And here’s a question: Between Terminator, the upcoming The Road and 2012, should we be at all worried that filmmakers are so preoccupied by the end of life as we know it?) The future, such as it is, seems to depend on hand-stitched rag dolls with simple numbers on their back. Number 9 (Elijah Wood) awakens to a vista of burned-out cities cast in sepia and bleak tones, his creator dead on the floor. Number 9 meets some of the numbers that came before him: 2 (Martin Landau), an older, kindly inventor; 5 (John C. Reilly), a sweet-tempered ally; 3, an eccentric artist (kinda crazy, and of course voiced by Crispin Glover); two nonverbal twins (3 and 4); a badass warrior type (Jennifer Connelly); and the leader, Number 1, voiced by Christopher Plummer.

The first half of the film is jaw-droppingly impressive: It looks so good! And the plot starts off fresh and brisk, as 9 meets the others and learns about the world they live in. Then the gang must try to rescue a fallen comrade, and in the process discover a piece of machinery that can ignite a truly scary monster (parents, be forewarned!). But it’s somewhere around the middle that the plot takes a funny sort of left turn. It all gets wrapped up in the concept of souls, and edges uneasily toward the spiritual.

All this being said, none of these plot quibbles take away from how amazing-looking the film is, and how exciting it is to have some fresh blood on the scene. With a story as good and interesting as the visuals, Mr. Acker will no doubt blow our minds with his next film, too.

svilkomerson@observer.com