Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Video review: "9"

"9" is one of the boldest, most original films to come out in 2009. It didn't get much of a box office reception, but now that it's hitting video, audiences have a chance to discover this animation gem.

Director Shane Acker based the feature film on an Oscar-nominated short he made about a dystopian world where all of mankind has perished. About the only living things around are tiny puppet-like creatures made out of burlap and bits of metal, with numbers for names.

The voice cast is especially good, with Elijah Wood as the title character, Christopher Plummer as 1, the authoritarian leader, Jennifer Connelly as the knight-errant 7, and Martin Landau as 2, an old tinkerer.

They must battle a faceless army of machines looking to dominate the post-apocalyptic word -- and capture the strange talisman 9 is carrying around.

The animation is just terrific, with inky pools of darkness and a wonderful tactile feel -- things you don't normally get from computerized animation.

Despite the PG-13 rating, which I feel is misplaced, this movie should be suitable for children above toddler age.

Extra features are good, not great. Neither the DVD or Blu-ray versions come with a digital copy of the film, which at this point should be standard fare.

Both versions come with original 10-minute short by Acker, and the commentary is especially interesting; he talks about working on his UCLA senior thesis film for more than four years while taking leaves of absence to do things like work on the last "Lord of the Rings" films.

There's a 16-minute making-of doc that includes all the principle talent, even producer Tim Burton, who lent his name (but not much hands-on participation, it appears) to the production. There are also two featurettes focusing on the design and animation process, and seven minutes worth of deleted scenes, still in storyboard format.

A commentary track by Acker and several key collaborators adds few new insights, but is still worth a listen.

In addition to these, the Blu-ray comes with a tour of the Starz animation studio hosted by Acker, and interactive features you can turn on and off during the movie.

Movie: 3.5 stars
Extras: 3 stars

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