As the mathematical cliché goes, sometimes the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
That’s certainly the case with “9”, a visually amazing computer generated science fiction fantasy.
The art direction is first rate, the voice talent is impressive, the quality of the imagery is astounding and the soundtrack is fitting. But “9” lacks a narrative strong enough to hold it all together.
“9” is based on an award-winning 11 minute long short film by Shane Acker. That eerie little thriller worked because of its sensational visuals and the dark, ambiguous atmosphere it created.
By expanding it to feature length, “9” tends to wear out its welcome.
Producers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov brought in screenwriter Pamela Pettler (“Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride”) to flesh out Acker’s original story. By clarifying some of the short film’s enigmatic elements, the narrative loses its eerie edge.
9 (voiced by Elijah Wood from “The Lord of the Rings”) is the name of a “stitchpunk”, one of several 8 inch tall puppet-like creatures that have somehow been imbued with life by a mysterious unnamed person.
When 9 awakens in a desolate future, he discovers that humanity has been destroyed in a war with intelligent machines. (No, Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t around to cause problems, but a lot of other angry robots are.)
He soon learns that there are other stitchpunks who have survived and live in perpetual hiding from the violent machines that continually attempt to destroy them.
Although 9 ultimately rallies his reluctant fellow stitchpunks to confront the machines, he also unwittingly unleashes a power that threatens to destroy them all.
Among the other stitchpunks that 9 encounters are 1 (Christopher Plummer), the priest-like leader who refuses to confront the problem, 2 (Martin Landau), a kindly old inventor who ventures out into the urban wasteland for spare parts, and 6 (Crispin Glover), who continually draws prophetic images.
Joining 9’s rebellious efforts are 5 the mechanic (John C. Reilly) and 7 (Jennifer Connelly) an independent warrior who is the closest thing the movie has to an action hero.
Although “9” has a considerable amount of action, the film’s pace is a bit awkward. Plus, there is enough disturbing violence to make it inappropriate for many of the young kids who will undoubtedly want to see it.
But the weakest feature of the film is its unsatisfying climax. When we learn what’s really going on, it’s hard to care.
“9” is a visual spectacular in service of a weak sci-fi plot. (PG-13) Rating: **1/2
* Avoid at all costs
** Only if you're bored
*** Good movie
**** Well worth your time
***** Be sure to see it