September 11, 2009

It's So Grim!!

I must say...
I do love a lot of the animated films that come out these days. Indeed, some of them are among the best movies I've seen, but I can't deny that they are almost all, universally, aggressively kiddy in one way or another. For every WALL-E there's a Monsters vs. Aliens, a Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, a Kung Fu Panda, and a Madagascar to go with it. Imagine my joy when I heard that 9, an animated movie aimed specifically at adults, was getting released. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered it wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
It's the future... or the past. I don't know. The movie doesn't do a very good job of telling us exactly what time period this takes place in. I'm just gonna say that it's some alternate reality and be done with it. Anyway, 9 is the next in a long line of humans vs. machines films, the only catch being that it picks up after the conflict, which the humans pathetically lost! Every single thing that was ever living on the earth, from humans, to animals, to plants, the those little bacteria that would come in so handy should aliens arrive, has been killed. That's not to say that the planet is lifeless though, no, no. Wandering the landscape are little burlap sack puppets, who have been given life by the scientist who created the machines in the hope that they may remedy his mistake, with nine in total. Unfortunately, the newest member of the group, 9, accidently awakens the original, and most powerful, machine, causing him and stichpunk allies a whole lot of trouble as they contend with an ever growing army of metal menaces. 9 is based on the Oscar nominated short of the same name. It follows the same general plot, albeit with a lot of things changed up for longevity. The setup is very compelling, but the execution is a bit stingy. More on that later...
Since this is an animated feature, the only acting on display is voice acting. There is no shortage of talent here. Unfortunately, it's all, more or less, wasted. Elijah Wood voices 9, and he's probably the worst of the bunch. I don't know what it is, but his voice just doesn't work for this character. Everything he says just sounds so stupid. I guess that can be attributed in some part to the script, but, this is the guy who tugged on our heartstrings as Frodo. You expect better! Jennifer Connelly plays the second most visible character, and most badass, 7. Again, her voice isn't right for the character, but she does bring more charisma to it then Wood. Crispin Glover is completely wasted as 6, as is Martin Landau as 2. Neither of them barely says anything, and when they do, it's all jabber. I wish we heard more of them. The two best voices are that of Christopher Plummer as 1, the leader of the group, and John C. Riley as 5, the medic/voice of reason. Plummer's old and cranky voice is perfect for 1, and pretty much anything Riley does these days turns out brilliant. In terms of voice acting, this is not the best the biz has to offer. I wish the producers and director were ballsy enough to make this a dialogue free movie, like the short. That would have been really cool. Also, and this is probably because the film was animated, but there is a lot, and I mean A LOT, of gasping in the movie. It got really annoying after awhile.
Director Shane Acker, who is also the man behind the short, and producers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmembetov have finally made a animated film that suitably be called a film for adults. The world of 9 is one of the grimmest I have ever seen on screen. It so masterfully creates this bombed out world, thanks to the wizardry of computer animation, and goes all out with the depressing and scary aspects. One of the first things that 9 sees after he wakes up the beginning was a dead mother holding her dead infant. That image right there immediately told me that this was not going to be the type of animated film where everyone gets what they want in the end, and where everything works out. This movie is leagues ahead of Terminator, The Road Warrior, or I Am Legend in terms of atmosphere and creating a sense of dread in the audience. And it bears mentioning that those movies created that atmosphere really well! But, thanks to a script that lingers on the side of awful, the atmosphere doesn't go as far as it should. The film focuses mainly on big action set pieces, with the dolls facing off against the machine of the week, including the cat from the short, a bird/stingray hybrid, a ridiculously scary snake like thing, and the big machine that controls everything. The violence is the main selling point here, and , though it is often thrilling, it just draws attention to the fact that the few scenes of dialogue are absolute shite! Not one of the characters here has anything to interesting or thought provoking to say. Also, I had a real problem with pacing in this movie, especially in the beginning. 9 wakes up and gets discovered by the rest of the group, and less then two minutes later, he's talking with them as if they were old chums who went pint after a hard days work on the factory floor. Didn't seem real at all! Thankfully, the action is quite good! All the machines look appropriately fiendish and evil; and all the dolls get to do something cool at some point, although that task usually falls to 7, and, thankfully, there are an appropriate amount of large explosions and cheer worthy moments to keep you interested enough to sit through it.
9 is not a bad film. I appreciate it in that it is an animated film for a more mature audience (that PG-13 rating isn't playing around), and that it brilliantly creates a sense of terror in this new vision of the apocalypse. It's disappointing that none of these good things were as fully realized as they could have been. An awful script and average voice acting bring the overall product down significantly. I'm still saying that it's worth seeing. You just might be better off waiting until it comes out on Blu-Ray. At least then you can mute it.

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