9 (2009)


It is inevitable that humanity will eventually die out. Depending on your level of optimism, some theories of human extinction may be more inevitable than others. Relatively recently, scientists have started wondering about what legacy humans will leave behind on planet Earth when we, as a species, go to our final reward. What, if anything, will be left behind to carry on our work?

9 is a computer animated science fantasy film directed by Shane Acker, based on Acker’s short film of the same title. It stars the voices of Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Crispin Glover, Martin Landau, and Christopher Plummer.

It is wartime. An unnamed Scientist is charged with building an artificially intelligent device called the Fabrication Machine, which will build other machines to wage war against a dictator’s enemies. Sometime later, we see that this was apparently a spectacularly bad idea, as humanity has subsequently been wiped out, their mighty civilization in ruins. However, life remains… sort of. Nine small homunculus-like ragdolls called Stitchpunks remain in this barren landscape, created for a purpose that they do not yet know. One of these, 9, was the last to be created before the Scientist died, and he finds himself in a terrifying world where remaining war machines hunt the Stitchpunks as the Stitchpunks try to find safety and a purpose. They are inquisitive and industrious, able to improvise any number of weapons and devices from the odds and ends they find around them, but this soon gets 9 in trouble when he accidentally reactivates the Fabrication Machine, which commences hunting the ‘punks in earnest. 9 believes their only hope is to fight back, but the spiritual leader 1 believes that survival will only come by running away and hiding… and 1 is willing to make sacrifices to ensue his ideal society. Before long, they ‘punks start running out of places to hide, and soon they must face this new horror, or risk their own annihilation.

This is a beautifully rendered movie. Due to the relative scale (the Stitchpunks are only about six inches tall), the debris left over by the apocalypse forms a new landscape for them to explore – a sandbox for the little MacGyvers to build what they need out of what is left behind. The nine main characters are surprisingly unique for burlap ragdolls, and I was amazed at how expressive and distinguishable their faces were, considering they were basically a couple of lenses (or, in the case of 5, a single lens) with a slit for a mouth. In addition to distinct appearances, each Stitchpunk also has a unique personality, easily avoiding the pitfall of making them little carbon copies of one another by making them embody aspects of the Scientist who made them. The war machines are also innovative and terrifying, from the Fabrication Machine (which reminded me vaguely of GlaDOS from Portal) to the Seamstress (who looked like Sid from Toy Story had allied with the Other Mother from Coraline to make a Stitchpunk hunting monster). The world inhabited by the stitchpunks is huge and beautiful and frightening, and a delight to watch.

Unfortunately, in actual substance the world of 9 falls short. It is light on explanations and thin on plot, and while an unexplained world like this can make the exploration of its mysteries a delight, here it was a bit frustrating. I didn’t get the feeling that the Stitchpunks learned anything about what happened to the world, and while they made progress against the War Machines and maybe helped nudge the world back to life (if inadvertantly), I had no real feeling of progress. Like little robots, the Stitchpunks are only following their programming, which appears to be compiling information and rebuilding the world any way they can. What plot there is doesn’t seem to quite stretch to cover the 79-minute running time, making the bulk of the film feel like mostly padding.

While 9 is beautifully detailed and demonstrates a Stitchpunk’s-eye view of a post-apocalyptic world, ultimately it falls short in terms of plot and feels like it could have been so much more. Worth a rent for the visuals alone, but other than that don’t look too hard for a complex story.

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