9 Blu-ray review

One of the many interesting animated features of 2009, Dave checks out Shane Acker's 9 on Blu-ray...

In a world where our obsession with technology has led to devastation, humanity has been eradicated by the Fabrication Machine, a peaceful creation corrupted by a dictator. The creator of the machine created nine little cloth people, holding aspects of his soul (from creativity to bravery) hoping that they could bring an end to this reign of terror. 

The last of the creations, 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) is rescued by 2 (Martin Landau) who sacrifices himself to a robot cat monster. In turn, 9 is rescued by 5 (John C Reilly), 9 wants to rescue 2, but finds that 1 (Christopher Plummer) is reluctant to take action. Feeling responsible for what has happened, 9 sets out on a question with 5, only to unleash something far more dangerous than the cat monster in the form of the  re-awakened Fabrication Machine. Reunited with the skilled warrior 7 (Jennifer Connelly), 9 and the surviving cloth people set out on a quest to destroy the Fabrication Machine and save what is left of the world.

9 has a fantastic voice cast, really interesting characters and exceptionally accomplished CGI. The film is genuinely creepy in places, reminiscent of Coraline. There’s also a Terminator or Matrix element to the machines taking over mankind, with nods to technology seen in those films.

Some of the creations are sinister, especially the robotic snake with the baby doll head! It does stay on the right side of darkness, so shouldn’t cause too many nightmares. The idea of a machine stealing souls and a world destroyed by machinery should be the domain of more grown up films, but 9 manages to tell its tale in an engaging way that will keep adults and children interested. It doesn’t have the cartoonish innocence of Disney or DreamWorks animations, instead choosing a more mature niche that can still be appreciated by children.

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If you look at the film deeply, it could be considered quite thought provoking. Aside from hope, we’ve got the technology versus humanity message, a message about tempering power with responsibility and the idea of a machine capable of creating other machines in its own image (quite literally a god in the machine.) The film doesn’t ever dwell on these possibilities, nor does it preach the messages.

The Disc

The bit rate on the Blu-ray often exceeds 30Mbps, in places exceeding 35Mbps, giving a remarkably detailed and clean picture where everything from the machines to flecks of dust look crisp and defined. The DTS 5.1 soundtrack is used incredibly effectively. Speech is clear, ambient sounds immerse you in the world, music is well used and seems louder from the rear speakers, whilst the action sequences shake your subwoofer.

If you’ve got a BD Live-enabled player, you’ll be greeted with a ‘preview from the internet’ of the Pocket Blu app (allowing you to control your player and download exclusive features from your iPhone.) Trailers for Couples Retreat, Love Happens, The Vampire’s Assistant all streamed using BD Live and could, possibly, be a good thing if the publishers keep the streamed trailers current.

The feature commentary features Shane Acker (Writer/Director), Joe Ksander (Animation Director), Ryan O’Loughlin (Head of Story) and Nick Kenway (Editor.)  The commentary is remarkably in depth and honest, explaining the intelligence behind the film and the development of the story throughout the production cycle. It’s worth listening to the commentary to find all the bits that you may have missed. There’s so much detail in the world of 9 that it’s impossible to take it all in and this commentary serves as a perfect guide.

There’s also picture-in-picture cast and crew commentary through the Uplay system. Using behind the scenes footage, storyboarding and interviews, it forms an alternate commentary that is less story focused than the audio commentary.

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There are five deleted scenes on the disc, mostly shown in storyboard or basic animatics. Some of the scenes are alternate takes.  hey are presented in standard definition.

The rest of the features are presented in high definition, which makes a change from some Blu-rays that I’ve seen in the past!

‘9: The Long and the Short of It’ covers Shane Ackers decision to creation 9 as a short film at film school and how it developed into a full length feature. It’s interesting to see the CGI of this short and hear Ackers and others talk about the project. Running at just under sixteen and a half minutes, it’s not a bad feature.

‘On Tour With Shane Acker’ is a tour of the Starz Animation studio and each aspect of the production process. Running for just over five and a half minutes, it would have been nice if it had run longer, with interviews with the various members of staff involved. As it is, though, it forms a fine whistle stop tour.

‘The Look of 9′ is a thirteen minute look at the… errr… look of 9.  The cast and crew talk about the influences for the retro feel and technical accomplishments of the film, which really draws your attention to the beauty of this film. Arguably, this is one of the best extras on the disc.

‘Acting Out’ runs at just under five minutes. It explores the way in which the characters were animated to look as if the characters were ‘acting,’ and how the animators use visual references to do their job.

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The original short of 9 (running at ten minutes) is also included, in standard definition, with a commentary by Shane Ackers and Joe Ksander. Shane talks about the difficulties and benefits of working with CGI and how the story and film developed over the four and half year creation process. Particularly of interest is the amount of ideas from the short that are in the final film. Even for what they describe as ‘rudimentary’ animation, the original short is exceptionally crafted.

All in all, 9 is a surprisingly effective film that rarely falls in the saccharine sweetness of some of the other CGI offerings that we’ve seen in the past. This Blu-ray release has had a lot of thought put into it, with interesting extras that belie the audience that the film is likely to receive. If you’ve been disinterested in the CGI output of American studios before, this might just change your mind.


4 stars

9 is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.


3 out of 5