Here are nine things you might want to know about 9:
1. There is no more reason to structure a review of 9 as a series of nine points of conversation than there is for the film to open nationwide on 09/09/09. Numerological profundity is less important to this movie than its release date might imply. As with this review, it’s really just for the hell of it, to make things easy and gimmicky.
2. 9 should not be confused with District 9, the recently released science-fiction parable of extra-terrestrial refugees quarantined in Apartheid-era Johannesburg, nor with Nine, a forthcoming musical remake, god help us, of Fellini’s masterpiece 8 1/2, although such confusions probably will happen anyway and do make you wonder about numerological profundity.
3. 9 is a feature-length elaboration of director Shane Acker’s own animated short film of the same name from 2004, which won a Student Academy Award and was nominated for a regular Academy Award. Such distinctions earned Acker the attention of Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted), who became this film’s producers and helped procure for it the vocal talents of famous people, including Christopher Plummer, Elijah Wood, Martin Landau, Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly and Crispin Glover.
4. 9 is better off without the vocal talents of famous people or any people. Acker’s short version of the film does without any dialogue, the absence of which only reinforces its wow-cool factor. The feature-length version, which also employs screenwriter Pamela Pettler, who wrote Burton’s Corpse Bride, tends to contradict the wow-cool factor with lots of unnecessary spoken explanation. It reminds us how little the movie actually has to say.
5. If you’ve assumed, correctly, that these talking points are listed in approximate order of importance, you may also have noticed with concern that we’ve gotten more than halfway through them before describing what the movie actually is about. That’s because its story is perfunctory, very much what you might expect from an 11-minute animated movie with no dialogue that has been inflated to feature length. Its creative vision, however, is extraordinary. 9 is not cute, and not a comedy. It is full of mood, texture, technically sophisticated chase scenes and not much else. Being impressed but unmoved would be an appropriate response.
6. What it’s about is a familiar post-apocalyptic scenario in which machines have gotten the best of humans by exterminating them and laying waste to the planet. But hope is not lost: There are little puppets. Or, well, dolls, made mostly of a thick burlap-like fabric, with occasional bits of copper and wood and rudimentary electric parts, plus lenses for eyes. The dolls were created and imbued with life by the same human scientist (voiced by Alan Oppenheimer) who also invented the machine that began the destruction of civilization.
7. Importantly, the machines manufactured each other, but the dolls were made by human hands. It is clever that a film so rich with computer-generated imagery should emphasize the tactility of its central characters.
8. The characters’ names are the numbers inscribed on their backs. They have a wizened but rather craven leader, #1 (voiced by Plummer), and a credible challenger to his authority, #9 (voiced by Wood). The others have other numbers and, accordingly, other qualities.
9. Finally, we have a film that craft-fair hipsters and sci-fi nerds can take each other to see on first dates.