Just like how Peter Jackson had produced Neil Blomkamp's first feature film District 9 and I loved that to bits, 9 has visionaries in Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov lend their producing creds in Shane Acker's debut animated science fiction film, and the result is nothing less than stunning, telling a crisp narrative with plenty of scrumptious apocalyptic styled visuals.
In yet another post-apocalyptic world brought about by humans versus machines which had turned against their creators, the land is now barren and the skies completely dark, still smoking from an all out war that left little survivors, save for some curiously designed, hand-made dolls brought to life. Ackers had created nine of such dolls each of distinct design that you can't help but to stare in awe at how intricately they have been brought out. 9 has a huge zipper in front of him, while others have buttons, buckles and the likes to secure their bodies together. In fact, I smell an opportunity here for some merchandising where the dolls could be sold as a boxset.
I digress, but these are but some of the most uniquely looking animated characters I've seen in a long while, each epitomizing certain qualities of the human spirit, good or bad. And having these characters are more than half the battle won actually, with even the machines looking terribly menacing despite their rather make-shift appearance, gifted with powers that range from being Medusa-like, to the big Deux-Ex Machina, accidentally brought to life by a curious 9, leaving much of the plot to survival from annihilation.
The story jumped straight into the action, leaving you with many questions that will only be addressed as it went on. Which of course is OK to me as it kept things under wraps so as not to bore you with the many who, what, why, how, when, where questions, nor alienate you especially when the animation is eye-popping, and full of kinetic energy that will leave you breathless immediately after each sequence, as if you're participating directly with the characters in their thrill ride and fight for survival.
It calls for patience, and only those willing to wait will be rewarded. The back story is something quite interesting, involving a fascist government and a scientist who had sown the first seeds of destruction, which while nothing new since it's been done by other films before (think Terminator and The Rockeeteer even), it did provide sufficient levels of detail to move the narrative forward, leaving room for open, imaginative interpretation. But as I already mentioned, the story just did enough and smartly took a backseat for its visuals to lead the way, which is after all what we're here to gawk at.
One of the plus points here belong to the voice casting. With the likes of Elijah Wood as the titular character, and supported by Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Jennifer Connelly and Fred Tatasciore (yes, 7 because 2 of the characters are mute), at times I can't help but to chuckle that it looked very much like Lord of the Rings all over again, with Wood reprising his role as the chosen one, and their mission which brings them to the heart of evil, having to do battles with whatever contraptions that got designed by the evil chief architect. Heck, his 9 even has a preferred sidekick, and two elders who can't be any more different on polar opposites, and a female warrior companion who chews up every fight sequence she gets featured in.
What I also found curiously addictive in the story was how it told of natural selection, where the weak tend to get looked over or disadvantaged, and the strong favoured not only just because they possess what it takes to ensure propagation of the species. I felt it was something quite unavoidable, even for inanimate objects brought to life which are subjected to the same rules and unfair playing field.
Beautiful visuals, wonderful voice casting and a layered, engaging plot all make 9 one interesting ride that kept its loops and turns very tight. What more can one ask for in an animated science fiction film, and I like it enough to shortlist it as one of my favourites for the year too. Highly recommended!