A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

9

September 9, 2010

9

In a clever piece of marketing this movie cam out last year on this date – 9/9/09. When I realized that today was September ninth again I figured it was a good time to watch this again. Of course any time is a good time to watch a strange, beautiful and unique movie like this.

When I saw previews of this last year I had no idea what to expect, but I was intrigued. The look of the movie made me think that perhaps it was a stop-motion adventure film of some kind. The previews concentrated on the magical quest aspects of the story and threw a bunch of names at you. Elijah Wood, Tim Burton, Jennifer Connelly, Timur Bekmambetov. What did it all mean?

The first thing you need to know about this movie is that it is not an animated film for children. I think if I had seen this as a child I would have been haunted by nightmares for weeks. It’s full of dark terrifying imagery. But it also has a beauty to it, a slight hopefulness behind all the horror.

The story revolves around a doll sized mechanical man identified only by the number 9 written on his back. He awakens in a strange workshop that is part of a post-apocalyptic world. Within the desolation he soon meets another little homunculus like himself, this one numbered 2. When 2 is captured by a vicious catlike robotic beast 9 soon finds himself taken in by the four other remaining dolls; 1, 2, 5 and 6. 3, 4 and 7 have all already been lost somewhere in the wilderness. 1 wants to hide, safe in the sanctuary of the church where he and the others have been hiding, but 9 insists on going back out to find and rescue 2.

He does find 2, and the others as well, but in the process awakens a horrifying evil that had been slumbering. There are no humans left in the world of 9, but the machine that wiped them all out – a vast factory beast that creates other machines to do its bidding – is still out there. Ultimately 9 and his companions must find a way to defeat this horror.

The nine little dolls each have a slightly different character. There’s 9 of course, who’s all courage and dedication. He wants only to help the others and never shows any sign of fear. 1 is all caution and perseverance. He has been trying to create a safe place for the others to live in. 2 is an inventor, always tinkering. 3 and 4 are librarians and historians, if you’d believe it, archiving newsreel footage and newspapers from the old world. 5 is all heart, he cares about everybody and only wants to do what’s best. 6 is a mad artist, forever doodling. 7 is the only identifiable female of the group and is a hunter and adventurer. 8 is a big lug, a steadfast fighter and defender.

But all of that only scratches the surface of what it is that makes this movie so unique. The real soul of this movie is in its tone and its art. It takes place in an alternate world where the apocalypse happened, apparently, during World War II. We see a lot of newspaper clippings and newsreel footage as exposition during the film, and it all has a very 1930s feel to it. The characters themselves appear to be constructed from various different rough woven cloths (their characters are somewhat revealed through their different designs. It’s clear that they were each constructed to fill different roles from the very start.) Everything that they use in their world is constructed from the detritus left behind after the great war that eradicated all life. The way that all their tools, weapons and clothes are clearly re-purposed human artifacts reminded me very much of The Rats of NIMH, which also had some of the tone of melancholy that so permeates this film.

It’s that tone that so captivates me. It’s not just that the setting is a destroyed and lifeless world where these characters and their mechanical nemesis are the only things left. There’s a sense throughout the film of despair and hopelessness. The very first companion that 9 comes upon is quickly torn away from him and when he finds the others they are already fractured and lost. There’s a sense of a horrible history not just for the world where the action is set but for the relationships of all the main characters. Why was 2 out in the wastes at the start of the story all alone? Where are 3, 4 and 7? What has already befallen this little band of isolated survivors? It’s all so sad and bleak.

Then there are the mechanical beasts created by The Machine. They are pure nightmare fodder, constructed from garbage and skeletons. 9 and his companions have to defeat several of these horrors, each more terrifying and ghastly than the last. As the film progresses The Machine constructs more and more elaborate creations, ultimately making things specifically to hunt down the heroes – things of such primal base horror that I would not be surprised to see them in a Wes Craven movie. As I said, this is not a movie intended for children.

This must have been a challenge to the marketing team for this film. How do you advertise an animated film set in a bleak and melancholy world filled with horrors? It’s more akin to anime films like Battle Angel than any American animation. It’s got a sort of art-house experimental film vibe to it which doesn’t really fit with the populist box office draws of today. Ultimately I suppose you have to do what they ended up doing: concentrate on the adventure parts and highlight the big name producers and actors attached to the project. And hope that people like me, who really enjoy unique and artistically extraordinary films, discover it. I’m glad that I did.

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September 9, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , ,

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