Intriguing ‘9’ ultimately short on story

By Christopher Smith,
Posted Sept. 17, 2009, at 6:01 p.m.

In theaters

9, directed by Shane Acker, written by Pamela Pettler, 81 minutes, rated PG-13.

Ever since its captivating and beautifully rendered trailer first hit theaters and the Internet earlier this year, Shane Acker’s “9” has been among the top films to see (at least in this camp) as we lean into fall.

Given that the movie is based on Acker’s Academy Award-nominated 11-minute short, which you can watch on YouTube by searching for “9,” everything about the trailer spoke to something fresh and exciting, only broadened to a full-length feature film.

For those who have seen the short, the questions were obvious. What would the additional 70 minutes offer? How would Acker and writer Pamela Pettler improve upon a story whose strength is in how much it holds back? The fact that Tim Burton was attached to the movie as one of its producers was another cause of interest. What would he bring to the table?

Since all of these questions generated a sense of excitement, it’s disappointing to report that the movie — while terrific to look at and rousing in parts — is not the movie it could have been.

There is plenty to admire here, most of it visual — all of it of the post-apocalyptic variety. Massive landscapes are created with impressive detail, as are nine doll-like creatures composed of various parts who have been infused with the soul of their creator and must make their way through a ruined world determined to undo them.

As the advertising slogan notes: “In the final days of humanity, a scientist gave his nine creations the spark of life. It’s up to them to protect the future.”

Against what? In this case, an evil onslaught of machines who turned against the world, destroyed it, and who are designed to capture and literally suck the souls from the nine little ones in question. Before 9 (voice of Elijah Wood) joins the eight others (voiced by Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau, Crispin Clover, John C. Reilly and others), the M.O. was to hide. But 9 is feistier than that, and his charge to the group is to stand up to the machines, fight back and fight hard.

As such, battles ensue, all of which are so impressively mounted, the movie’s potential for mining emotional heft is diminished in the face of them. And that’s the real problem with “9.” The action doesn’t stop, true, but your heart isn’t beating at a break-neck pace because of it. The movie is too short on story, which doesn’t help. You pull for the nine characters whose lives are at stake because, frankly, it’s a classic case of the little guy against the big guy.

Throughout the movie, you never really come to know these oddities. They are intriguing enigmas with wide eyes and cute faces (for the most part) — but little more. We know they were gifted with a “spark of life” from a human, but they themselves are not human. And so what are we to make of them? If humanity as we know it no longer exists, how will they protect the future — and for who? Themselves?

It isn’t enough.

Grade: C+

On DVD and Blu-ray Disc

The fourth season of “Ghost Whisperer” is available, with Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Melinda Gordon talking to the dead in ways that the actress might soon be talking to her own career if the show doesn’t pull itself together and improve. While this season does tone down the treacly sentiment of previous seasons, Hewitt’s limitations as an actress have yet to be overcome.

The same can’t be said for Patricia Arquette in the fourth season of “Medium,” a superior series in which Arquette’s Allison Dubois, a psychic, solves crimes via the assistance of her unsettling dreams. Fine writing and performances drive the series, as do some intriguing storylines.

Two other crime-related shows are recommended, the best of which is the seventh season of “CSI: Miami,” with David Caruso and crew keeping the series nicely on edge — there’s no screen fatigue here. The same goes for the fourth season of “Criminal Minds,” in which Joe Mantegna’s David Rossi leads a crack team of FBI profilers whose personal lives, as with so many of these crime-related shows, are embroiled in the sort of turmoil few ever would want to face — unless, of course, it’s on their television sets in the comfort of their own living rooms.

From A&E, try “Mysteries of the Freemasons,” a documentary that explores Masonic history via a handful of experts on the subject. Live-action re-creations abound, as they do in these series from the History Channel, with the core revelation being that within the brotherhood of the Masonry, it’s up to the individual to mine the truth of their own secret. Details on Freemasonry are light and interspersed. In the end, the set is best recommended as a fine primer on the subject.

On Blu-ray, look for four martial arts movies — Jet Li and Maggie Cheung in 2004’s “Hero,” Jackie Chan in 1994’s very good “The Legend of Drunken Master,” Jean Wang and Tsang Sze Man in 1993’s unrelenting, Quentin Tarantino-produced “Iron Monkey” and Takeshi Kitano in his own 2004 award-winning movie, “Zatoichi.” The latter is the best of the lot, which is saying plenty since every one of these films are excellent examples of the genre.

Rounding out the week are several standouts, beginning with the second season of the quirky comedy series “The Big Bang Theory.” Also worth noting is “Bonanza: First Season, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2,” each sold separately; the complete first season of the sci-fi powerhouse “Sanctuary”; the Blu-ray release of 1981’s excellent comic horror movie, “An American Werewolf in London”; and “Gigantor: The Collection, Vol. 2.” Less involving fare includes the first season of the television thriller “Harper’s Island,” the third season of that cloying throwback “Mr. Belvedere,” and the first and second seasons of the energetic but cliche-ridden television show, “Fame.”

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/09/17/living/intriguing-lsquo9rsquo-ultimately-short-on-story/ printed on September 20, 2014