Sock It To Me.
Sock puppet apocalypse!
First, allow me to register a complaint: Tim Burton’s name is bandied about this production like it was his to bandy. Even the intriguing trailers stank of advertising Burton. Tim Burton is one of the producers and his name is for marquee strength only. “9” is solely the vision of animator-writer-director genius Shane Acker.
Shane Acker. We’ll hear from this boy in the future.
“9” is his jaw-dropping, wonder-making, magnificent animation sight-spectacular, and an ambitious stab at conceptual darkness. Gone awry. The concept is lost amidst this action movie that didn’t need to be.
A tiny hessian puppet named 9 awakens in a blasted cityscape and wonders at his existence. He meets others of his kind, all with numbered names, and they embark on a journey of self-discovery while facing monstrous mechabeasts with unknown motivations and fatal inclinations.
The animation in “9” is so unique and the story so strange that it takes viewing and listening to the Audio Commentary to understand the fullness of the world that Shane Acker created. But Acker attempts too much conceptualization and it gets lost. To relate to the motivations of the burlap sock puppets, they must be anthropomorphized, which turns them into little dolls. Which they aren’t.
We discover the hessians (which Acker calls “stitchpunks”) are the vestiges of a living soul, the continuance of the scientist’s mind who forged them, each numbered doll purveying a different element of the scientist’s humanity.
Flashbacks via old newsreels reveal a Terminator-like past, where a useful artificial-intelligence machine was put to evil use by “The Chancellor” (no prizes for guessing he’s a Hitler allegory), whereby it gained evil sentience, created more of itself and wiped out mankind.
The machine is the villain – although I don’t like the way “science” is offhandedly blamed as the cause of the evil machine, as if science is a religion or a tangible thing. Science is a methodology.
Number 1 (voiced by Christopher Plummer) is especially aggravating in his denunciations of science-as-religion; an analog for Dr. Cornelius from PLANET OF THE APES, he is a quivering would-be leader who must create the perception of peril so that others will look to him for ad hoc leadership (much like Dick Cheney).
Number 2 is Martin Landau, old and inquisitive, who meets a brutal end. Numbers 3 and 4 are mute tabulators of history. One-eyed Number 5 is John C. Reilly. Stripey Number 6 is Crispin Glover. Number 7 is pretty hot, even without boobies, voiced by Jennifer Connelly (who is a 9 in real life). Number 8 (Fred Tatasciore) looks like Oogie Boogie from THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. And Number 9 is Elijah Wood.
Giving voices to the rag dolls demeans the production. The Original 2005 Short for 9 (on the DVD) features a mute 9 and 5 in a well-structured little tale with great payoffs; it is alien, bizarre, excellent. The feature film is homogenized for family entertainment – and with Elijah Wood as the star voice, well, it’s just too comfortable to be darkly enjoyable.
- When 7 gets stabbed by a needle, how come it hurts? The hessians have no bloodstreams, no muscles or tendons to tear into; they can’t go into circulatory shock. Even 9 gets his arm torn and he acts “wounded.” Both 7 and 9 are healed – ironically – by stitching them up.
- The hessians’ eyes are apertures, like camera shutters, enabling them to blink. But if your eyes do not have delicate corneas that need to be constantly lubricated, why blink?
- The puppets were brought to life through an alchemical process whereby the scientist’s soul was sucked out of him via a Talisman into them – explaining how they retain his “goodness.” The evil intelligent machine goes about sucking the souls of the little numbered puppets into itself – therefore why doesn’t it progressively get nicer?
A lot of Running and Screaming just to end on a very mundane preachy note. 9’s last words – when he is left with a nuclear family of himself, sexy 7 and the raggie twins, 3 and 4 – are “This is our world now. It’s what we make of it.”
More fun than losing a sock in the dryer.