Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Magnificent 9

A magnificent experience visually – not so much emotionally or in regards to plot – 9 is set in a murky, brown and gray world destroyed by an H.G. Wellsian war between man and machines, and the only hope for the future of the planet rests in the scissorhands of 9 doll-beings concocted of bits of metal, burlap, fabric, thread, and zippers. Inspired and led by the idealist 9 (voice by Elijah Wood), a sharp thinker who holds the rather mystical key to salvation, the numbered dolls embark on a mission to defeat a massive machine called the Brain. Dolls 1, 2, and 5 through 8 (3 and 4 are mute twins), voiced by Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Jennifer Connelly, and Fred Tatasciore, literally form a ragtag bunch of questing heroes who spend most of the film eluding a mechanical beast, saving a fellow numeral from being chomped, or going down fighting for the good of the mission.

Reminiscent visually as well as plotwise of The Terminator, Edward Scissorhands, Dark City, The City of Lost Children, and War of the Worlds, the movie is slim on story. The action is overabundant, often involving the dolls in Magnificent Seven-like acts of rescue and sacrifice, but unlike The Magnificent Seven, the Magnificent Nine never have a chance to sit around and engage in interactions that help us get to know them. Nevertheless, the frequent battle scenes often involve the destruction of a beast by means of a visually clever Rube Goldbergian chain reaction. Meanwhile, throughout all the action, the CGI-animated characters move deliberately, like they have real substance, and never too rapidly to follow.

In the end, we realize we’ve seen much of this story in bits and pieces elsewhere, but it is a film that can be enjoyed for its art direction alone. I especially like the flashbacks to the distinctly Wellsian war between human soldiers and war machines, like the Martian tripods in War of the Worlds, firing cannons and launching elaborate weapons of mass destruction. In fact, elements such as the rise of a fascist regime, the ruins of sculptures and palaces, and the production of the gigantic machines look like illustrations from an H. G. Wells novel. Whatever the inspiration, the post-apocalyptic world of the roving numbered dolls is a dark but richly evoked world of hulking ruins, thudding machinery, and metallic monsters under a brooding sky that scowls once again at humankind's hopelessness.


The Film Doctor said...

Nice review. As much as I tend to like apocalyptic films, I still don't have much compulsion to go see it. I liked Shane Acker's short film that formed the basis for this one, but I still wonder if he came up with a story to justify the full-length treatment. Insofar as robots keep attacking the doll-beings, the trailer would seem to suffice to get the idea.

Richard Bellamy said...

FilmDr - I love post-apocalyptic scenarios as well; so I had to see it. But the enjoyment here is visual. As for the action, it's the same thing over and over, for the most part - though I loved the flashbacks to the Wellsian war machines.