I first saw Shane Acker's Oscar-nominated short film on which 9 is based at the Telluride Film Festival nearly five years ago. It was intriguing: dark yet captivating, dynamic yet baffling, oddly familiar yet undeniably surreal. The short always felt like part of a much larger whole, so it is no surprise that when visionary director Tim Burton ( Edward Scissorhands, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory) saw the film, he, together with Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Nightwatch), encouraged Acker to develop it into a feature-length film.
9 opens just after the end of the world. The dark and frightening landscape is one of rubble and half decomposed human corpses. Mighty war machines lay where they fell, apparatuses out of place even in a world of shattered buildings and apocalyptic desolation. Ravenous fires lick at any available fuel source, and an impenetrable shroud of pollutants and ash cloak the sky. Following an all-out human vs. machine war, neither side came away the victor. Reflecting a dictate of modern atomic theory, mutually assured destruction was imminent, and now the surface of the planet is a blight, wiped clean of any living human presence. A voiceover says, "Humanity had such promise. But we squandered our gifts."
A rag doll tumbles off a shelf and somehow comes to life; exactly how this happens, we're left to wonder. The doll, simply known as "9" (voiced by Elijah Wood), is alone in a battered lab. He's made of burlap and sealed by a zipper running the length of his middle. He's no larger than a child's action figure with blinking, apertured eyes—like camera shutters. To the newly alive 9, everything is new, mesmerizing and astonishing. Yet even he senses something is far from normal beyond ...1
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