9 (2009)

(In theatres, September 2009) Being visually striking counts for much, but there’s a limit to how much it can compensate for a generally unsatisfying story.  Like many bad fantasy films, 9 falls into mystery-meat plotting, in which protagonists do things that they can’t explain for reasons less explained by organic motivations than setting up the next scene.  The film doesn’t survive even cursory scrutiny: The story is thin, the characters even thinner, and the general doom and gloom of the post-apocalyptic storyline eventually leads to a victorious conclusion that doesn’t seem appreciably more hopeful.  There’s a sameness of tone through the film that takes its toll (even for a mere 80 minutes), especially since it seems to play exclusively with a palette of blacks, reds and browns.  On the other hand, 9 is likely to be remembered for an unusual combination of imagination and design, leading to a steampunkish grimness that works well as a series of disconnected moments.  The mechanic dolls that form most of the film’s characters are intriguing creations, and the care with which they’ve been given form will leave more than one viewer awed.  (This is the first film in a long time that had me admire its sound design work: Ah, the sound of metal-against-metal…)  It nothing else, it’s an original vision even if the story seems like an overly-familiar mixture of mushy incoherent mysticism and epic fantasy.  I wonder if the film will survive a second viewing more favourably than most, once the element of plot novelty has been removed from the equation.  (Or whether it would have done better as a video game)  Perhaps it’s better to see 9 as another calling card of sorts for director Shane Acker, while we wait for his next film.

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