9 [PG-13] [2009]

Overall movie: *** (**** for gamers)
EJW content: Animated lead character, but unlike Mumble he's just a voice
Nine rag dolls fighting for survival. 9 woke The Machine and then there were…? That “?” speaks to what seems to me an ambiguous ending, which I don't mean as a complaint. Without the ambiguity it would be a “happily ever after” ending that  wouldn't be true to the spirit of the movie and would probably have most of its target audience gagging. The only problem with it is that I'm an Elijah Wood fan and it's his character that causes all the ambiguity; I'd be hard-pressed to add 9 to the list of movies in which he saves the world. There could be some good discussion of whether 9 is a blessing or a curse to the little community he joins.  

With a well-earned PG-13 rating for mayhem and peril, this isn't an animated movie for little kids; the machines attempting to destroy the characters are the stuff of nightmares. The target audience is hinted at by the fact that 9 didn't seem to be advertised on TV at all, but links to the trailer were plastered all over “geek” sites online. The short it's based on was something of an online cult hit. Since seeing 9 (twice), I've said to a few people that its biggest fans will probably be gamers, because it has more of a storyline than a plot. This is actually more realistic than a traditional plot, especially in an embattled world* like the one we see in 9: things happen one after the other, and earlier events influence later ones, but events don't build on each other as they do in a “real” plot. This is also how video games, especially role-playing games, work, which is starting to affect the way specfic is being written by people who come to writing through the gaming world.

Overall, I'd say 9 is a good movie, although not a great one. I do have to disagree with those who've said it lacks character development. True, it's a bit “cartoonish” in that each character operates out of one recognizable trait, but the movie would have had to be a lot longer to do anything else; more importantly, as we learn through the storyline, those single individual traits are a product of how they were created. There are even some characters who change during the course of the movie. (And I love 7 - voiced by Jennifer Connelly - orc helmet and all.)

Speaking of orc helmets, I saw only a couple of Frodotypes during 9, but I was chuckling over how many shots brought memories of PJ's LotR films. Rather than imitation, I think this is more related to the images themselves being iconic in our culture. Peter Beagle called Tolkien a “colonizer of dreams,” and I think that's true about the makers of 9, although the dreams they evoke border on nightmares. Some of the machine monsters fly, and the sound made by their wings on the downbeat is awfully similar to the one that still gives me chills when one of PJ's fell beasts is flying by.  

For all those “honorary aunts” of EJW out there, there's one heartwarming moment that's worth the price of admission. When he's first created, 9 can't speak. One of the other dolls works with his voice mechanism, gradually changing the sound from machine static to more human, until he reaches the point where that dear, recognizable voice comes out clearly, saying “Friend?” Awwww…


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*I found it interesting that the dystopia in 9 has a European flavor rather than an American one. The city we see looks a lot more like an over-industrialized Paris than it does Gotham City. Is it possible that the end of humanity shown in the film isn't worldwide? That would give a very different sense to the ending of the movie - even if the surviving characters aren't aware of it.