Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An animated view of post-apocalyptic life

Searching for meaning in a desolate world.

Early at a preview screening of the movie 9, I took this note: 9 joins with 5 in search of 2. This number-heavy plot summary makes sense -- and then only marginally -- when you realize that the characters in director Shane Acker's animated opus have numbers instead of names. It's a little odd, but you get used to it.

Acker's impressively creative expansion of a 2005 animated short features a hero made of burlap with a zipper that runs from naval to neck. Life isn't easy for 9 who's voiced by Elijah Wood. Nine has born into a post-apocalyptic world, and the movie that bears his name continues Hollywood's fascination with the destruction of human civilization.

What is it with us? We definitely seem to enjoy watching ourselves get wiped out or maybe our post-apocalyptic, dystopian joy ride -- from WALL-E to District 9 -- has something to do with the economic collapse that's destroying life as we knew it.

Acker, whose first-class voice actors include Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover and Jennifer Connelly, sets his movie in the aftermath of a war between man and machines. No humans survive the conflagration, so it falls to 9 and his cohorts to battle an indefatigable beast, a flying predator and a machine that sucks the soul out of its foes. The burlap people (sounds like something from an old Flash Gordon serial) also try to understand how they arrived on Earth. Do they have a maker? If so, what was the maker's plan for his creations?

Tim Burton produced 9, so it's no surprise that the movie offers a smorgasbord of visual achievements, many on the frightening side -- at least for younger children.

I can't say that 9 makes perfect sense, and its ending proves a little too spectral. But that shouldn't diminish the movie's kick, which stems from battles involving ferocious looking machines, from a series of appropriately devastated landscapes and from creatures who find themselves facing dangers without understanding the rules of the world they inhabit.

On that last count: Any resemblance to humans is probably not coincidental.

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