Today’s film is an interesting little beast. It is an expansion of a short film that gained some popularity on the internet a few years ago, even being nominated for an Academy Award. And, with the backing of a big name director, it was expanded to a full length feature film. It has the number 9 in the title. No, it’s not District 9, but rather Shane Acker’s film 9, which came out the same year as another film called Nine (that one a musical).
This 9, however, is a totally different beast entirely. For starters, it’s computer animated. For seconds, it’s not about being Italian or film making or making people remember how awesome Marcello Mastroianni was. This one is actually far darker – it tells the story of a post apocalyptic Earth that was devastated by the machines created by The Fabrication Machine. This is a device that was made to basically make all other machines, something akin to Master Mold. The scientist who helped created the Machine, thus bringing about the end of humanity, devises a way to transfer parts of his soul into nine homunculi, dying as he creates the final one – the titular 9. And the story picks up from that point.
The film opens with 9 seemingly abandoned in an empty lab, empty and voiceless but for an object in his belly. He soon ventures out into a completely destroyed world and meets up with another of his kind, the intelligent and inquisitive 2, who fills him in on what has happened and takes an interest in the object. Soon, though, 2 gets captured by The Cat Beast, who also takes the object. After running from the attack, 9 soon finds even more of his kind – the meek 5, group leader 1 and warlike 8 (whose look definitely owes o debt to Oogie Boogie). 1 fills 9 (and by extension, us) in on what went down with the humans, as they eventually meet with several members of the group; 7 - the tracker and artistic 6. During this, we see that a war is still going on, with giant machines eradicating all that seem to be living, by way of poison gas.
9’s introduction to the existing group, naturally, upsets the established order of things, as he takes it as his responsibility to rescue 2, against 1’s wishes. He soon enlists 5 to his cause and they set off to rescue 2 from The Cat Beast. They soon track the Beast to an abandoned factory, where they find 2 and catch the Beast trying to reactivate The Fabrication Machine. The Beast attacks them and soon finds itself destroyed by 7. 2 uses the talisman from 9’s body to accidentally reactivate The Fabrication Machine at the cost of his own energy, meaning the others have to beat a hasty retreat out of there.
From there, The Odds (because they are 9, 7 and 5) end up in a library where they meet up with 3 and 4, others like them who remained there – cataloguing all the information they can get their hands on, who fill the group in on the history of The Fabrication Machine. And, of course, 9 takes it upon himself to try and shut down the machine – once again, against the wishes of 1 who tries to imprison The Odds. Before this can happen, the hideout is attacked by Winged Beast that helps burn the hideout down and causes the entire group to have to look for a different safe house.
Once a new safe house is found, 1 admits that he sent 2 out to die (“the needs of the few”....) and 9 decides that they need to return to where he woke if they are to stand any chance in shutting down The Machine. Along the way, the group are attacked by another of the creations, leading to 7 and 8 being captured and 1 and 5 almost being destroyed. Returning to the factory, 9 sneaks in and sees The Machine destroy 8. He manages to rescue 7, destroying the new creation in the process. While this is going on, the others burn the factory and supposedly destroy The Machine.
But, of course, it’s not – and soon destroys 5 and 6. Even though they find out that their friends souls are trapped within The Machine, 1 and 7 wish to destroy it, but 9 wants to find a way to free everyone, which he believes can be found at the lab he woke in. Upon finding the way to do this, 9 returns in time to stop his friends from trying to destroy The Machine, offering himself up as sacrifice, a position soon taken by 1 instead. Taking that opportunity, 9 removes the talisman and helps free the souls of his friend, who spread across the sky, causing it to rain – shutting down the robots and allowing life to return to the world.
Overall, the film reminded me a lot of the old Oddworld video games, in overall feel if not in look. In fact, the whole film reminded me of a lot of different video games – the world definitely took inspiration from such things as Myst, the aforementioned Oddworld, Gears Of War (or insert your favourite Earth-based post-apocalyptic gameworld here) and Bioshock, especially with the use of 1920’s style newsreel footage to fill in the gaps in the world and the Andrew Ryan style voiceover on it. In addition to the feel, a lot of the set pieces look and felt like they could be video game stages – not that that is a bad thing.
The “stitchpunk” characters reminded me quite a bit of Sackboy, although injected with their own individual slices of “humanity”, rather than just being cutesy. Granted, each character is only injected with one major aspect of human personality, but those aspects all come together (as individuals and as a unit) to show how all aspects of humanity can work together and apart and still be useful and valuable aspects of life. Hell, even 3 and 4 who have no actual voice, but only “speak” via flashing their eye lights on and off manage to inject a heck of a lot of life into themselves.
Shane Acker has named such people as the Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmajer as influences and it is easy to see why when you view this film. I hate to use the word “steampunk” to describe their work, especially Svankmajer’s, but the world that Acker created is one of twisted metal, wood, broken technology and definitely looks like it was fused together with whatever was at hand. And it works, much like a more war torn version of the Earth Wall-E lived on.
All in all, a rather sweet, if ultimately unremarkable film.