Less than 15 minutes into 9, the adventure starts. These robotic puppets, their names are just the numbers 1 through 9, set off on a quest to take down a machine-creating super-computer not named SkyNet.
The issue is 9 moves too quickly. There is no investment with these characters. When one of them suggests turning around to go back, the audience relates. The idea of drawing emotion from a burlap puppet is difficult enough on its own, and the animators do succeed. Lenses act as eyes, shuttering in various ways to give each a different look.
The story lets that design down, pushing forward with wild, energetic action. Director Shane Acker, nominated for an Academy Award in 2005 for the 9 short film, uses a team and healthier budget to create a world, but limited character. The twins, numbered 3 and 4, carry more personality than the others, yet the twins never speak a word. They use lights in their eyes to communicate, an exclusive trait that helps them stand out.
Grim images, including a haunting view of a mother holding her child singed inside of a car and lifeless, make 9 a refreshing change in animation. The world is designed in an alternate timeline, taking place sometime after World War I. Humans have been wiped out by the machines they created, and the 9 must fight back.
The explanation for the 9 is in some ways logical, and in other ways confusing. It is held for the end of the film, offering reasoning behind their human-like nature (including funerals), but passing into a realm of mysticism and even religious allegory that feels wrong. This is story that feels unnatural but mechanical, the latter being what brings it to life.
If the film teaches anything, it is that scientists looking to create an all-powerful super-computer should focus the efforts on making it appear fluffy and sparkly. Adding sharp edges, a bright red eye, and an attitude only leads to disaster.
The days of instantly praising animated films for their hi-def glory are over given the advancements Dinsey/Pixar has made. 9 does not have the same texture quality of Up, although it wasn’t made with the same financial power behind it either.
Universal’s VC-1 encode shows the film for what it is. The burlap design is notably flat, smooth, and lacking definition. The same goes for the world, which lacks a clear crispness that has become the expectation. Notably however, this is not something that could be cleared up by a new encode. Generally, the images are sharp, leaving the weaker textures as an unfortunate side effect of that Blu-ray clarity.
This is a film that lacks vivid color, settling on dim earth tones for its atmospheric impact. Grim lighting is also apparent, but the rich black levels are admirable. The video maintains a level of acceptable, even outstanding, depth throughout.
No artificial enhancement has been applied save for a single scene around 27:28 as the machine attacks. Notable edge enhancement is visible on the lower portion of the machine, and for the following shot from the same view as well. It is glaring considering how thick (and random) it is, but passes quickly, making it a tough catch.
Scoring something like this, not even including that brief moment of EE, is increasingly difficult. While this does not offer the same vivid showcase images of Up or Cars, it is remarkable in maintaining its source accuracy. In that sense, this is flawless. Universal has provided the exact encode they should have.
While it may seem minor, out of all of the audio reviews on this site, none have handled falling debris better than 9. Early, as a creepy robot cat assaults 9, footsteps stir up small pebbles and rocks, which then coat the soundfield with a truly amazing display of immersive surround audio. The level of crispness that is extraordinary, making it one of those effects that is subtle enough you don’t notice it, but without it would feel lost.
In terms of balancing issues, 9 has them. The range here is off, making dialogue difficult to discern while keeping a suitable volume for this truly powerful DTS-HD effort. In theaters, 9 offered D-Box support. At home, your subwoofer delivers the same effect.
Every stomp, explosion, or thud delivers a resounding, even crushing level of bass. The movie’s biggest explosion, that of an entire factory going down, is unbelievable in how it rattles (cleanly too) the entire listening environment. The surrounds are of course active as well beyond falling debris, including some fun tracking front-to-back as characters pass through, and excellent stereo channel separation. Whipping winds in a dust storm early on are particularly impressive as well as they immerse the viewer.
A loaded commentary features director Shane Acker, animation director Joe Ksander, story head Ryan O’Loughlin, and editor Nick Kenway in an active conversation. Five deleted scenes in various levels of completion run for 7:24, followed by a fine little making-of, The Long and the Short of It, that focuses on both the original short and feature length effort.
On Tour with Shane Acker is a piece on the animation studio as the director guides the viewer through each department. The Look of 9 is a 13-minute affair detailing the influences of the look and how they translated into the film. Acting Out is a short piece on how the animators deal with pulling a performance out of their digital work, which is then followed by the original short film.
Universal adds U-Control, providing picture-in-picture during the film, with the usual featurettes and sketches. Generic BD-Live support remains.