Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
October 2009

Stitchpunk wasteland

Acker's full-length '9' shows promise, but can't justify an entire run time

Focus Features
Director: Shane Acker
Screenplay: Pamela Pettler
Starring: The voices of Elijah Wood, Martin Landau, Christopher Plummer, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Crispin Glover and Alan Oppenheimer
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 19 minutes
(out of four)

I never saw Shane Acker's original 11-minute short film, 9, upon which this full-length feature is based. But what the new version tells me is, Acker may have been on to something with that 11-minute run time.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the film focuses on a group of artificially intelligent beings - which I've read are called "stitchpunks" - created by a scientist just as machines had begun to take over the world and eliminate humanity. The nine stitchpunks that remain on earth do so in hiding, until No. 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) shows some cojones and fights back against the machines that have captured his kind and destroyed life on earth.

In theory, that might be enough for a full-length movie, but so much of 9 just seems to be killing time. There are many action sequences in the film, and most of them don't seem to be motivated by anything more than increasing the running time. One scene exists solely to get to the next, which exists to get to the next, rather than every scene fitting in with the bigger picture.

And as for the action scenes themselves - Acker definitely knows how to make them look good, but hasn't quite figured out how to actually make the action engaging.

I'm sure this film probably has much more plot than did the original short, but it still doesn't feel like enough for a full movie - or if it is, Acker doesn't flesh anything out enough.

When No. 9 is first introduced, he's lost and alone, unsure of who he is or how he got here. He eventually finds his way to a secret lair where the rest of the stitchpunks - or at least those who have managed to avoid capture - live in solitude.

The tyrannical leader of the group (voiced by Christopher Plummer, who it seems has carved something of a niche as an animated film villain) is a kind of coward - more concerned with self-preservation than fighting back against the machines. When his compatriots go missing, they're gone for good, as far as he's concerned. You never know what might be lurking outside.

Naturally, the more meek of the stitchpunks have a more idealistic and/or noble worldview, as No. 9 and the one-eyed No. 5 (voiced by John C. Reilly) insist on going after their captive comrades.

What logically seems to be the epicenter of the characters' journey is the discovery of who they are and why they were created - yet for the bulk of the film, all that is pushed to the side in exchange for more action.

When we (and the 9, of course) do make that discovery, there's a tinge of poignance, but it would have been so much more powerful had the rest of the movie had the same kind of focus. As it stands, it feels like we've spent too much time running around in circles - escaping this machine, escaping that machine - and far too little exploring the whos, hows and whys.

That said, Acker does offer some fantastic visuals, and just to prove he's more than just a guy who can make things look good, he comes up with an atmospherically rich sequence utilizing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that kind of hit me over the head. That tells me the man knows how to really set a scene - it's just that there aren't nearly enough scenes worth really indulging in.

There are fine moments and elements of the overall design of the film that make it worth watching, so it's not like 9 is an altogether bad movie. It's just one that seems like more of a glorified highlight reel than anything else.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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