9/ dir. Shane Acker/ (short film) 2005/ (feature length film) 2009
There are some things in life that seem marvelous, brilliant, and perfect when in the abstract, or in theory, but when it comes to fleshing it out in real life, in the actual world, it falls flat and fails to live up to its perceived greatness and magnitude. Shane Acker’s 9, begrudgingly falls into this trap. The short film of the same name was an Academy Award nominated animated short in 2005. In only 11 minutes, Shane Acker’s 9 (2005) presented an eerie and frightening post apocalyptic world, complete with climatic action scenes, and tense moments all without dialogue. Its main character, a sentient burlap sack doll, and its main antagonist a mechanical cat beast, along with the dark colors, heavy use of shadows and a steam punk style all seemed very Tim- Burton-esque. So when it was announced that Tim Burton had decided to produce the feature length version of the short, while retaining Acker to help write and direct, it seemed like a natural progression, a perfect blend. But as written before, some things are better in the abstract than they are in the real, and while Shane Acker’s feature length film 9 wasn’t bad, it wasn’t nearly as effective as the short it originated from.
Much like the short that inspired it, 9 (2009) is a visual treat. The film just oozes that dark, noir-ish, futuristic steam punk style. Yeah we’ve had stories about a torn and tattered post-apocalyptic world before, but the atmosphere from this feature definitely captures the feel of the original and expands on that notion ten fold. The character designs are some of the most bizarre, weird, and original creations ever seen on an animated film. And the animation, especially on the well-executed action scenes, flow fairly well and go hand in hand in creating a great adventure.
However, the hang-up on 9 (2009) is not on its visuals, its design, its atmosphere, or its animation. Its the narrative that holds back the feature film version of 9. When expanding a story from 11 minutes with no dialogue, to a full-blown 80 minute feature complete with an all-star vocal cast and a star studded producer (Tim Burton), one would assume that both the overlying story, and the characters would be more fleshed out and have more depth than in the 11-minute short that it came from. And yes,while the overlying story was more fleshed out and there were overtones of humanity’s greed and dependence on machines, it felt more like a rehashed, childish action adventure version of the Terminator series with sack dolls. Gone was the eerie, suspenseful and thrilling nature of the short, replaced with a more light-hearted, yet still trying to be dark toned action adventure. (I would also like to call out the cornball sequence near then end of the movie where our heroes danced to an old style phonograph while seemingly celebrating a victory) Lastly, the depth of the characters was just not there. Even though they had more individualized personalities, there was nothing in the story or dialogue that made me really care about their plight. In fact, even though there was nary a word of dialogue in the short of 2005, those characters had more charisma and charm than their feature length counterparts. Going from an animated short to a feature film seemed great in theory, but in practice, not so much.
All is not lost though. Somewhere in the feature length version of 9 is a great animated action film with tons of style and atmosphere. However, for those of us who have already seen the short, just don’t expect the same effective film.
See the 2005 short here:
See the 2009 Feature Film Trailer: