In a world that is our own, a scientist invents a machine built to create weapons for war known as a Fabrication Machine. The Fabrication Machine, thanks to its artificial intelligence, is considered a success, although because of this, it also turns out to be mankind’s biggest mistake. The machine turns on the human race, becoming an international threat and wiping out almost all of human kind. In his last chance to fix his errors, the scientist builds nine rag-doll looking robots made from yarn, giving them the name stitchpunk machines, and with the help of a set of alchemic talismans, transfers parts of his soul into each of the robots to give them life, killing him in the process. All the robots are called by their numbers, and with 9 being the last robot to wake up and like all the others, have no memory or understanding other than to survive this terrifying wastleland, two of the stickpunks decide to fight against the Fabrication Machines and save the Earth from complete annihilation.
A student at the University of California Los Angeles, Shane Acker worked on 9 as a short film student project along with eight other students, taking over four years to make. The short film was completed in 2005 and was released at multiple film festivals such as Sundance. 9 had such a critical acclaim that it won best animation at the Student Academy Awards and was nominated Best Animated Short at the 78th Academy Awards. The short film got the attention of Tim Burton, who along with Timur Bakmambetov made a deal to create a full feature length film based on it. Shane Acker was assigned director, while Burton, Bakmambetov and three other people worked as producers, while Acker’s original store was used, Pamela Pettler wrote the film’s screenplay with Ben Gluck acting as supervisor. The film was released worldwide on the most fitting date of September 9th 2009, or “9-9-09” as advertised.
For a fairly modern CGI film, the animation in 9 is above average at best. There’s the attention to detail, smooth animation and partially realistic animation, but it is nothing better or unique about it when compared to the many other high budgeted CGI films. What is special about it is its art design and atmosphere. Tim Burton was heavily involved in the production in this film and if you have seen at least one of his films, you would see that it has some really creative art direction, and while working on major animated features such as Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride, this is as far as I know his first CGI film production and his creativity really translates into this film. The atmosphere is dark and mysterious, giving the environment a real feel of it being a wasteland without having a bland gritty look to it. While the design of the stitch robots look simple and unique and some of the designs of the sentient machines look really imaginative, the fabrication machine looks like it was based on the sentient machines in the Matrix, it’s been a minor issue I had while watching it.
The music is quite basic and unmemorable; it is of good quality thanks to Danny Elfman’s contributions to the score, and they do help set the scenes but there is nothing that’s special or outstanding to it. The voice acting is ok, also nothing spectacular or unique, but very listenable. In my opinion the best actors in this film are Christopher Plummer as 1 and Elijah Wood as 9, with Plummer portraying a grouchy attitude and an old fashioned way of thinking while Wood shows the younger and more curious personality.
Most of my opinion of this film has been from my first impression of watching the feature length film, without watching the short beforehand. Upon watching both versions, I find while the short film is slightly inferior in its visuals by design, it was a student project don’t forget, the longer version feels slightly padded, yet the short film feels a bit more rushed, not having much time to explain certain plot points. I think one issue I had with the feature length version was that the stitchpunk machines actually look and felt more like machines in the short version, while the feature film made them feel l like human beings that appear like rag dolls. Outside the comparison, the story itself is quite intriguing, expressing the human perceptions of war, how robots can become our worst enemy if we don’t use them properly and conflicting ideas of how we should survive against a vastly superior enemy, but it essentially feels like other “man against machine” sci-fi films like The Terminator, while this isn’t a bad thing because it is an interesting story with some complex ideas, on the whole it’s almost like quite a few other films, and if it’s only other major reason to show it’s worth watching is it’s visuals and art style, then it may not be worth sitting through.
If you are interested in Tim Burton, Sci-Fi or animation I would really recommend this film, it has great atmosphere, artistic design and interesting ideas expressed in the film, and the short version is worth a watch if you want to see how this film all got started. But if you aren’t one of those people, it is best to have a look at the trailers and really think if it is worth it, because there could be a similar kind of film that is worth sinking your teeth into.
9 is available from Focus Features and Universal Pictures. The original 10 minute short film that was also directed by Shane Acker is also available from both Focus Features and Universal Pictures, and is found on the main DVD along with the Feature Length film. Shane Acker has been working as a teacher in animation, although he was credited as an animator for the short “A Jake and a Tom” which hasn’t had a major release outside film festival showings.