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9 is like nothing I've seen before, and that means many things. The best way to describe it is with comparisons, though they don't quite suffice.
The animation? In six words, I wish it was stop-motion. It's really got that Laika/Burton feel, but it's CGI. Competent CGI, yes, but I'm so used to this kind of thing being amazing stop-motion that I wish for that to have been the medium.
The world? Fascinating. It's a post-apocalyptic film about homunculus steampunky Sackboys fighting to survive against horrific mechanical nightmares in a desolate Earth. It's not hugely supernatural, but alchemical themes are alluded to, and the focus is mainly on these nine little mechanical cloth people and the demon machines around them, like a malicious WALL•E setting. The concepts and designs for the stitchpunk nine are really cool, feeling both futuristic, slightly like BioShock, and like vintage fantasy, and the enemy machines are really twisted and scary.
The tone is good. It's genuinely dark and serious, with hardly any spots of comic relief or family-movie happy resolutions. Events are weighty and big and yet are often not overplayed in one direction or another. It almost feels like an industrial-toned myth or fairy tale in its simplicity.
The story is minimal. It really feels like the extended short film it was, so concept and visuals are in the forefront while characters and plot are just there to fuel the ideas. While I like some of its expedience and In Medias Res feel, there isn't enough development or subtlety in its writing because of that. I keep coming to the idea that it's a video game with no gameplay because the restrained writing can only go so far in being considered writing, leaving it feeling like just the most important film clips being used as cutscenes in an adaptation game. Characters do things before they are established and dramatic opportunities are left as passing events. If the piece were longer, it might have been much deeper. Perhaps the plot and numerical themes would have been stronger if both the good and evil creators in this story had nine creations.
This film is a really cool trip into a new world, but don't go into it for a deep lesson.
I guess the best way to start this review would be to list its ups and downs.
The lack of story exposition is the main reason why the film received lukewarm reviews by critics. The director Shane Acker has stated that each of the 9 dolls represent one quality of human nature, with 1 being the most flawed and 9 being the closest to perfection. There is no 10th stitchpunk because there is no such thing as a 10/10 perfect human. 7 was female because everybody has a little bit of the opposite gender inside them, which is what unites both genders as human. 6's key around his neck is symbolic because he is the key to showing 9 the way to finding answers. This is all very, very deep, but since none of it is verbally touched upon in the film, a layman viewer has no way of appreciating the hidden symbolism. Then again, that kind of stuff is somewhat hard to convincingly express in a movie without seeming Anvilicious, so you have to credit Acker for throwing in all that stuff in the first place.
Many of the initial character descriptions that were written before the film had details that were never able to be touched on in the film due to the tight length. For example, 9 was originally described as wanting to discover the meaning of life. If this was explored in the film, a clear Aesop would be established.
The film was too short for my liking. I could sit through 2˝ hours of this! According to an interview, Shane Acker thinks that movies these days are too long. But for a film with this much depth, an hour and 12 minutes is rather insufficient. I think 90 minutes would have been better. There would be more time for plot exhibition and screentime for 2, 6 and 8.
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