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Dystopian future. Epic struggle. War between man and machine. A band of survivors, struggling to fend off the opposing forces. Sounds like a big budget live-action science fiction film, right? Well, what if I said this is an animated movie? Starring sock puppets! 9, the newest film with the moniker “Tim Burton’s …” contains all of this, and beautiful graphics to boot. But does the story hold up? Take the jump and find out!

Before we get to the movie proper, I’d like to quickly go over the trailers that played before 9 began. We first had a glimpse of The Vampire’s Assistant, the first in a series of films based on the Saga of Darren Shan books. Looks more like young, circus X-Men to me. Next up was A Serious Man, the newest Coen brothers’ movie. This might be good, but the trailer doesn’t give away much, so who knows. The most lackluster trailer of the bunch was James Cameron’s Avatar. Just didn’t do anything for me. The surprise standout was The Fantastic Mr. Fox, starring George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Bill Murray. Not only did it look hilarious, it is all stop-motion, which gets an extra point in my book. But enough about trailers, on to the feature!

The film opens with an old scientist meticulously constructing an odd sock puppet, which is then hooked up to a machine and given life, at the expense of the old man’s. An indeterminate amount of time later, the puppet, dubbed 9 (Elijah Wood) awakens, and quickly surveys his surroundings: the house where he was “born,” the surrounding town, perhaps the entire world, all a barren wasteland. He also finds a circular talisman, and instinctively stuffs it within his body. In the distance, he spots something moving, scavenging through the wreckage. 9 goes to investigate, and discovers that the scavenger is another puppet, the technocratic 2 (Martin Landau). 2 helps install a new voicebox in 9, and together they rummage through the debris.

Suddenly, a gargantuan mechanical beast with the skull bone of a cat jumps out of nowhere and attacks the duo. 9 is eventually knocked unconscious and 2 is captured, along with the talisman. 9 wakes up under the care of another puppet, 5 (John C. Reilly), who was 2’s assistant. 9 and 5 are then taken by the hulking brute 8 (Fred Tatasciore) to speak with 1 (Christopher Plummer), the self-appointed leader of the troupe. 1 is a particularly gruff, unhappy, but ultimately cowardly puppet, and tells 9 and 5 that if 2 was taken by the cat-headed monster, he’s already dead. 5 takes 9 to the watchtower of their hideout, where 9 spots the burned-out factory that the beast took 2, and convinced 5 to go with him to save 2.

9 and 5 trek across the barren wasteland (which is in actuality a few city blocks), and eventually find 2. Unfortunately, the cat beast finds the group, and for a moment, it looked like our hero was in serious trouble. Then, out of nowhere, a lone warrior appeared and slayed the mechanical monstrosity. That warrior is 7 (Jennifer Connelly), the Wolverine-esque loner and the film’s only female. The party begins to leave when 9 becomes fixated on a great machine with strange markings, markings that match the talisman he found in the lair earlier during the fight. His curiosity gets the better of him, and 9 places the talisman onto the machine. Bad idea. The machine roars to life, and instantly drains the soul out of 2. The rest of the group leave frightened and bewildered.

9 says he wants to get a better understanding of the evil machine he awoke, so 7 takes him to see the twins, 3 and 4. The twins are essentially catalogers, recording and storing infinite amounts of information. They play an old film reel they acquired (using their eyes as projectors, no less) explaining that the evil machine was built by the same scientist as was seen earlier in the film. The reel claimed the mechanical wonder was build for peaceful purposes (which begs the question, why do you build a machine with the sole purpose of killing people and creating smaller killer robots for PEACEFUL purposes), but was commandeered by the former dictator of… y’know, I’m not sure… America or Earth or something. The film implies there is a revolt against the dictatorship, and the evil robot built to kill humans does just that, thus explaining the current state of the world. 9 asks the twins about the talisman, but they seem to have on information on it. 5 then mentions that it looks like something the prophetic artist 6 (Crispen Glover) has been doodling with his fountain-pen fingers for months. The group leaves their library hideout, and makes the trek back to 1’s stronghold.

While the backstory was being revealed, the Machine wasted no time in constructing a legion of smaller robots. After a serious yelling match between 9 and 1, the first of these new robots, a weird pterodactyl-airplane attacks the group. With their combined might (or, more accurately, 7 and 8’s combined might) they best the beast, but at the expense of 1’s fortress. More walking for the party, this time back to the twin’s library. Almost immediately after returning, however, they are ambushed but a truly horrifying monstrosity, a snakelike machine that has a broken baby doll head and uses the DEAD BODY OF 2 to ensnare its prey. The snake-thing captures 7 and 8, so 9 and the gang head back to the Machine’s factory. 9 eventually saves 7, abut doesn’t get to 8 in time before his soul is stolen. Long story short, There’s some fighty-fighty, and the puppets successfully blow up the Machine.

The group begins to celebrate their victory (in probably the only comical scene in the film), when out of the ruins of the factory, the Machine emerges, charges our band of heroes, and absorbs 5’s soul. It was at this moment I realized what the puppets were fighting: the Machine is essentially a Walking Eye. So the puppets somehow entrap the Walking Eye, and are about to strike the killing blow when 6 yells, “Don’t! They’re still in there!” and gets himself absorbed. Smooth move, 6. 9 regroups the team and they head to the “first room,” a.k.a. the scientist’s house.  There he learns that each puppet is essentially a part of the scientist, and gives 9 the knowledge to finally defeat the Machine. Which he does. Surprise, surprise. The film ends with the souls of 2, 8, 5, 6, and 1 (who sacrifices himself to save 9 during the final fight) being released into the sky, only to come back as rain which, we are to assume, will restart humanity.

This first thing I have to say about 9 is, of course, it is a beautiful film. The characters, the landscapes, the overall visual tone of the movie are spot-on. Simply stunning. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough graphics in the world to cover the weak-sauce story. From reading my synopsis, I’m sure you’ve noticed the amount of travel in this film. The majority of the plot is as such:

  • Go to Point A.
  • Learn a little backstory.
  • Fight a robot.
  • Repeat steps 1-3 until Walking Eye is defeated.

That’s it. There’s no deterrence from this formula. The story came across less like “epic tale of good vs. evil” and more like “a really good night of D&D.” And while I’d love to see a big screen version of Torq, this does not make for a great movie.

And y’know, I wouldn’t mind the plot being a bit on the simple side… if it weren’t for the various plot holes 9 contains. For example, the whole purpose for the puppets to exist is to defeat the Machine. However, the Machine is off (as in not operating in the slightest) when the group discover it. Why then would you need to stop a threat that has already been stopped? Doesn’t make sense. The ending also bugged me, but honestly I may be reading too much into this: like I said earlier, the ending of the movie implies that the spirits of the fallen puppets help jumpstart humanity. It’s also referenced (to the point of almost being outright told to the audience) that the puppets are all one aspect of their creator, the scientist. This is most apparent in 6 (creativity), 5 (loyalty), 8 (strength), 7 (courage), and the twins (knowledge- I guess the scientist had a double dose of that). The problem is, not all of the puppets help restart humanity- 9, 7, 3 & 4 are still flesh and blood (or, more accurately, buttons and burlap) and the movie’s close. So, if you think about it, humanity is going to be reborn without bravery, knowledge, or good leadership abilities. Something about that doesn’t sit right with me.

On the whole, though, 9 is good. Not great by any stretch of the word, but good. It’s worth a watch on the big screen, if nothing else than for the graphics. My suggestion would be to wait until this film hits a local “dollar theater,” if you’re lucky enough to have one near you. I give the film “9” 3 out of 5 stars.

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Oh, and I saved the best for last: Walking Eye.

The Author

Sam Dunham

Sam Dunham

Sam Dunham was born at a very early age, and shortly after became entangled in the world of film. His first memories are of seeing King Ralph in his local theater. He learned to talk with the help of Adam West's Batman: The Movie. He's one of the few people to still own a working RCA Videodisc player (heck, it's where he first watched Young Frankenstein!). When Sam is not perusing his extensive B- movie collection or sitting in dark theaters with a tub of popcorn, he is usually found reading comic books, fixing computers, toiling away at his day job, working some nights at a local radio station as a "soundboard guy," and going to class so that he can one day toil away at his day job fixing computers. One time, Lou Ferrigno conned him out of $20.00. But that's another story...

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5 Comments

  1. Brent from Bloomington
    September 21, 2009 at 5:46 pm — Reply

    Yeah, it was alright. It was pretty, but in the end, i couldn’t help thinking, “So what?” The big mystery was apparent from the first scene, the answers were all in the first room, and the bad guy was already defeated until they turned it back on. It seemed pointless.

    Go see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs instead. Much better.

  2. Modok
    September 22, 2009 at 5:26 am — Reply

    “the twins (knowledge- I guess the scientist had a double dose of that)”

    Maybe Knowledge of Good and Evil, that’s why there are two??

  3. Katzedecimal
    September 22, 2009 at 11:29 am — Reply

    I felt that “9” could be summed up in one word — predictable. It was so predictable I couldn’t even spam it. The one surprise was at the climax, where I felt sure they all had to join the others inside the machine, to give it its soul and….. oh. Well. Hm. Plus there was a sense of absurdity that defied suspension of disbelief. ‘Why do they have gender? They’re sock puppets.’ (I guess the scientist was in touch with his feminine side?) “I guess this is our world now” — ‘and do what with it? – you’re sock puppets!’ Not Burton’s strongest story, I’m afraid.

  4. Sam Dunham
    September 23, 2009 at 8:08 am — Reply

    Yeah, 9 inadvernantly raises more questions than it answers… and not in a good way. I also thought that either the all the puppets should have sacrificed themselves, or they should have brought back the dead ones and skip the whole “restarting humanity” bit. And to be fair, Tim Burton had a minimal influence on this film – he saw the original short done by Shane Acker, liked it, and gave him enough money to produce a full-length feature.

  5. Jeff
    September 23, 2009 at 6:11 pm — Reply

    Doesn’t 9 come of as more off a moron than a hero? There would be no Walking Eye if not for 9’s curiosity (stupidity?). Christopher Plummer was also great with his negativity. According to him, it seemed that nothing could ever be saved, and it was always “too late to save him”. Somehow in the end, though he decided that “sometimes one must be sacrificed…” Just a strange change of heart in the character.

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