Director: Shane Acker Release Date: 9 September If a picture really is worth a thousand words, then 9 director Shane Acker’s animated post-apocalyptic tale about a group of living rag dolls trying to survive amongst mortiferous machines would be as thick as the tremendously lengthy novel War and Peace. Strictly on a visual level, you’ll be hard pressed to find another film this year that’s as creative and mesmerizing as 9, which is an extended version of Acker’s 11-minute short of the same name that was nominated for an Oscar in 2006 and won the top prize at the Student Academy Awards. The desolate settings that were inspired by photographs of European cities destroyed in World War II and the fantasy artwork of Zdzislaw Beksinski are both ravishing and haunting, and you can just tell that Acker put an overwhelming amount of time and effort into conceiving the intricate 8-inch figures that resemble little burlap sacks with heads, arms and legs. (He calls them stitchpunks.) It’s just too bad 9 doesn’t stimulate your mind as much as it does your eyes. If you try ever so hard you should be able to uncover the subtle themes of questioning authority and science vs. religion in Pamela Pettler’s (Monster House and Corpse Bride) screenplay, but sadly, most of the film is comprised of a continuous string of action sequences involving the stitchpunks engaged in battles with the evil mechanical beasts. And when it comes to plots for science fiction movies, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Humans use innovative technology to create machines for the betterment of the world, only the metal inventions eventually turn on mankind and destroy almost every living thing in existence. Not exactly innovative stuff, now is it? (I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the script does have its fair share of strong moments, especially the flashback that explains the events surrounding the annihilation of civilization and a certain scene that includes the most memorable use of the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow since The Wizard of Oz.) But any originality that is missing from the narrative is relatively easy to forget due in part to the highly detailed and unique stitchpunks that Acker has crafted. The pint-sized characters are basically the most fascinating aspect of the story anyway, and their interactions never become stale because each of them has their own distinct look and personality. (They also have numbers stitched on their backs to indicate who they are.) Given the spark of life by a scientist during the last days of humanity, the nine stitchpunks consist of 1 (voiced by Christopher Plummer), the group’s stubborn ruler who always thinks he is right; 2 (Martin Landau), a compassionate and over-the-hill inventor; 3 and 4, mute twins who mostly communicate through their flickering eyes; 5 (John C. Reilly), a one-eyed engineer who is conflicted yet morally strong; 6 (Crispin Glover), an outcast who is persistently troubled by his visions; 7 (Jennifer Connelly), a brave and skillful warrior; 8 (Fred Tatasciore), a beefy Michelin Man look-alike who serves as the muscle for 1; and, last but not least, 9 (Elijah Wood), a fearless natural born leader who could very well be the key to ending the reign of the machines. And what horrifying machines they are. Much like the small array of stitchpunks, the film’s antagonists are also exceptionally anomalous and each contributes to the wondrous world of 9 in its own creepy way, particularly the soul-sucking granddaddy of them all, which looks like a cross between HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey and the tentacled Sentinels in The Matrix” trilogy. (The baddie that resembles a cobra with a porcelain doll’s face is by far the most spine-chilling of the bunch.) As you can hopefully tell by now, 9 isn’t the kind of animated film where children will be walking out of the theaters with beaming smiles on their faces. Although 9 is void of any bloody violence, there are still plenty of perilous situations that will make a lot of kids uneasy, and you would have a hard time convincing me that Acker’s feature debut does not deserve its PG-13 rating. But with so many animated motion pictures aimed at a younger audience, it’s nice to finally have another visionary director who is willing to take us to the dark side. 9 marks the coming out party for one heck of a talented artist, and I know I am not alone when I say I cannot wait to see what Acker has in store for us next. 8/10