Tag Archive for science fiction

Movie Review: The Hunger Games (3/24/12)

Movie Poster: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

Directed by Gary Ross
Screenplay by Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins

Starring:
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland

How long is The Hunger Games? 142 minutes.
What is The Hunger Games rated? PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens.

CLR Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Movie Still: The Hunger Games

Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games.
Photo: Murray Close/©Lionsgate

It’s everything you’ve been waiting for.

One thing’s for certain: you don’t want to live in the world of The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins’s trilogy presents a future America that’s as bleak as it is plausible. A world in which the government’s efforts to contain an unruly populace include sacrificing 23 children a year. A place where those who dare to speak their minds have their treasonous tongues cut out of their heads. This is an America in which the very rich and extremely powerful enjoy an unsteady reign over a poverty-stricken population that struggles to stay alive. This is the world of The Hunger Games, and like Fahrenheit 451, 1984, or Brave New World, it is absolutely terrifying in its familiarity.

Gary Ross’s film is based on the first of three young adult novels that are fast, well written, and smart. Fans have towering expectations for the movie, and luckily it hits all the notes we’ve been waiting for. The books and movie follow sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a resident of coal mining District 12, in the country of Panem. Katniss is effectively mother to her younger sister Prim (Willow Shields), and spends her free time hunting illegally in the woods with her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Katniss, unlike simpering Bella Swan, is a certified badass. Watching her hunt is hypnotic – and it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that they fashioned beauty from her coaxing a deer out of hiding.

Once a year, explains a title sequence at the beginning of the film, a kind of gladiatorial pageant takes place in Panem. To quell a potential uprising, the government takes two children between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district and forces them into an arena where they fight to the death. Every citizen of Panem is forced to watch this death game. As mandated, Katniss and the rest of District 12 gather in their Sunday best for the Reaping, the ceremony in which the names are drawn (the concept is like something out of a Shirley Jackson novel). Whose is the first name to be drawn? Even though she’s only in the running once, it’s Prim, of course. Katniss volunteers in her sister’s place – which is the first step in her unexpected, clumsy journey to leading a revolution.

The government, headed by President Snow (Donald Sutherland), frames the Hunger Games as something to which people should look forward; according to the powerful it is an honor for children to die for their district. Thus the propaganda film (which sounds oddly, frighteningly biblical) calls the sacrificial lambs Tributes. The second Tribute from District 12 is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son who once threw Katniss a loaf of burned bread to keep her from starving. The two of them board a bullet train to the Capitol, a glimmering oasis of wealth and decadence, to be treated like superstars while they prepare to brutally murder their peers.

In the Capitol, they meet their mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a former winner of the Games and a drunken louse. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) is a kind of liaison between the Capitol and District 12, an eccentric and bizarre creature hidden beneath layers of makeup and brightly colored clothing favored by the citizens of the Capitol. Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci, decked out in a Who-from-Whoville pompadour of blue hair) is the announcer and host, the face of the Games; Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) is the man behind the scenes, the great designer. Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) is the District 12 Tributes’ stylist/strategist, a guardian angel who helps them make an impression.

Katniss narrates the books, and making a film from a novel written in the first person is a daunting task. The filmmakers do a brilliant job of conveying the vast difference between poverty-stricken District 12 and the wealthy, decadent Capitol. Katniss is stunned by the abundance of food and space, the gleaming metallic surfaces of the Capitol; it is unlike anything she’s ever seen before. What we see is akin to an episode of “Cribs” – we value and encourage this kind of decadence in our celebrities. The film portrays this well, in lingering shots of both the Districts and the Capitol. Lawrence, likewise, expresses subtle emotions while remaining outwardly stone-faced.

The actual Hunger Games don’t start until well into the film. There’s a lot of storytelling to get out of the way, a lot of buildup, but never does it feel slow or forced. The suspense builds to bursting as Katniss and Peeta mold themselves to give ‘em a show, and just when you’re ready to explode the film enters the arena. The Games themselves are as brutal as you’d expect. They are, after all, teenagers stabbing, slicing, crushing, and shooting each other. There are a few kinds of Tributes: the cunning and ingenuous, like Fox Face (Jacqueline Emerson) and Rue (Amandla Stenberg); the strategic and talented, like Peeta and Katniss; and the Careers. Careers train daily until they’re 18, just biding their time until they’re given the chance to “honor their districts.” Careers Clove (Isabelle Fuhrman), Cato (Alexander Ludwig), Marvel (Jack Quaid), and Glimmer (Leven Rambin) form a deadly alliance and it’s left to the rest of the Tributes to avoid them.

Katniss and Peeta pretend to fall in love because that’s what the audience wants, and what the audience wants is integral to survival, because the rich can pay to send gifts to those in the Games – medicine, food, ointments. The arena itself is a computer-controlled nature preserve where the gamemakers can employ lethal tactics to murder the children or force them to murder each other. All of these things are artfully explained by cutting away from the arena and onto Caesar Flickerman, our master of ceremonies. Tucci’s toothy grin is both engaging and disingenuous – his casting is perfect.

The movie doesn’t feature voice-over narration from Katniss; we’re outside of her head, and that leaves more creative legroom to keep up with the rest of the characters. It may feel jarring to some fans to leave the arena so often. Frankly it releases some of the tension, though, to cut to Seneca and President Snow, or Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith. All of the performances are spot-on. At 20, Jennifer Lawrence has an earnest maternal quality; she was rightfully nominated for an Oscar for Winter’s Bone, another movie in which she played surrogate mother to her siblings. Stanley Tucci is always fantastic. Harrelson plays Haymitch with just the right amount of bitterness and a splash of deliberate funny. Elizabeth Banks, nearly unrecognizable in Effie Trinket’s uniform, is entertainingly strident and out of touch. The makeup, costuming, and special effects are also pitch perfect. Ross and the rest of the crew treat the book with reverence and respect, and the end result is exactly what fans will want.

We’ve seen movies like this before – in 2000, Japan’s Battle Royale took the world by storm with its horrifying portrayal of an entire high school class fighting to the death. The two bear similarities, certainly; however, Battle Royale is a jarring and gory satire of the inherent, petty malevolence of teenagers, while The Hunger Games is a dystopian nightmare that happens to feature a teenage protagonist. (It’s also worth noting that Battle Royale was banned from wide release by the US and UK until just this year, while The Hunger Games is only rated PG-13.) Comparisons are unavoidable, but the two are separate entities.

On opening night, the theater was filled with preteen girls carrying bows and wearing shirts that declare TEAM PEETA or TEAM GALE; you could mistake this fandom for something along the lines of Twilight – there’s giggling at every kiss, every meaningful glance. Bella Swan, though, wouldn’t last two seconds in the Hunger Games without her shimmering savior. Katniss Everdeen is a strong, smart, fast, and cunning protagonist – and this movie is one I’d encourage my hypothetical daughter to see and love for herself. In short, it’s everything you’ve been waiting for, and may well be the best movie of 2012 so far.

Movie Review: Super 8 (6/11/11)

Movie Poster: Super 8

Super 8

Directed by J.J. Abrams
Screenplay by J.J. Abrams

Joel Courtney as Joe Lamb
Elle Fanning as Alice Dainard
Kyle Chandler as Jackson Lamb
Amanda Michalka as Jen Kaznyk

How long is Super 8? 112 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and some drug use.

CLR Rating: 4/5 stars

Movie Still: Super 8

Elle Fanning (Alice Dainard), Ron Eldard (Louis Dainard), and Joel Courtney (Joe Lamb) in Super 8.
Photo credit: François Duhamel
© 2011 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Action-adventure flick throws us back to the days of yore, gives us something to smile about.

A group of plucky, slightly foulmouthed teenagers inadvertently witness the release of an alien creature onto their small town. They must subvert the sinister military presence to discover the mystery behind its origins, and soon they discover it only wants to go home. Sound familiar? Perhaps a little “E.T. phone home?” Well, Super 8 producer Steven Spielberg knows from whence he comes, and he and director J.J. Abrams (“Lost”) fashioned a summer movie that’s both homage to and a playful jibing at 1980s action/adventure filmmaking. Since the first full-length trailer released, people have guessed that Super 8 is a cross between The Goonies, E.T., and Cloverfield, and that’s exactly true. But luckily for us, those flicks were pretty great.

In 1979 in Lillian, Ohio, thirteen-year-old Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) has just lost his mother in a gruesome accident. He’s harboring a problematic crush on tall, willowy blond Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), and only just getting to know his gruff deputy father (Kyle Chandler). Meanwhile Joe and his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) are making a Romero-inspired zombie movie along with Alice and three friends. When they sneak off in the dead of night to film at a train station, the six teens witness a train crash that is certainly the coolest you’ve seen in years. While the accident miraculously only leaves them a little charred and jarred, the thing that escapes from an armored train car causes very real, very frightening troubles in Lillian.

The film’s opening features the Amblin logo writ large, the soaring bicycles silhouetted on the moon deliberately evocative of that other alien movie. Super 8 is a very purposeful throwback to early 80s filmmaking, from color scheme to tone to subject matter. Even more than that, though, Abrams and Spielberg made certain the camera itself plays an integral role in the film. Lens flares chop through characters’ faces, obscuring them in favor of reminding us we’re watching a movie. Blatant Steadicam is a continuous reminder that this is all playing out in front of a camera. The movie is sprinkled with dual focus shots, which are as jarring as they are captivating – and were heavily used by Brian de Palma in the heyday of 1976’s Carrie. Super 8’s title is derived from the most readily available home video film in that era. Charles’s room is adorned lovingly with posters for Halloween and Dawn of the Dead, and it escapes exactly no one that what’s happening in Lillian is exactly the plot of a disaster movie. The self-referential tone reminds us that we’re watching a movie that’s as much about aliens in small-town America as it is about other movies.

Abrams brought crew members from “Lost,” including composer Michael Giacchino and cinematographer Larry Fong, onto Super 8. Giacchino’s score seems to be aping those of Spielberg’s most frequent musical collaborator John Williams, but that works here. Fong’s experience occluding monsters in “Lost” and “Fringe” comes in handy; although a super 8 camera is the first thing to capture our E.T., we first see the creature in the reflection of a puddle. Just as it becomes maddening that we can’t get the bigger picture, Abrams finally hands it to us – and the creature won’t disappoint. Abrams wrote the script, which manages to balance wit, sweetness, and scares with aplomb.

Twelve-year-olds the world round will shortly be nursing a crush on Joel Courtney, whose infectious grin, floppy mop of brown hair, and button nose would’ve landed him on the cover of Tiger Beat twenty years ago. Kyle Chandler, AKA Coach Taylor on the brilliant “Friday Night Lights,” may be a one-trick pony, but damned if he isn’t great at playing a brusque but caring father. Elle Fanning, younger sister to Dakota (whose child-star trajectory seems the least disastrous of any recently, and who whipped out a great performance in The Runaways), captures the camera’s attention with her ability to change personas in a flash. Good genes and an almost eerie maturity must run in the Fanning family.

Super 8 is by no means perfect. It’s a little trite, a little sentimental, and glosses over a few plot points that should’ve been fleshed out. The military men are unreasonably evil – no Peter Coyote to play the friendly believer in uniform here. The Romeo and Juliet subplot that underscores Joe and Alice’s innocent romance could’ve used a little more development. The troupe of kids doesn’t quite have the rapport they did in The Goonies or E.T., but their reactions to catastrophe are charming all the same (the screaming, cussing, and puking are reminiscent of another period favorite, The Sandlot). Finally, this creature is no cute little humanoid that heals wounds, though our protagonists do form a psychic connection with it; Abrams smoothes over its penchant for brutality with a slightly ham-fisted attempt at humanizing it.

These small flaws aside (and they really are small), Super 8 is quality filmmaking. This is what a PG-13 summer blockbuster looks like. For those of us who grew up on 80s action flicks it’s a delightful return to form. Hopefully it will engage a whole new crop of kids and entertain their parents in the process. Smart, scary, sweet, and witty are not attributes you often get to assign to one film, but this one takes them all. We’re in the midst of a country-wide heat wave, so what better thing to do than retreat into a cool, dark theater and let Abrams and Spielberg thrill you? Go. Enjoy.

Movie Review: Inception (7/17/10)

Movie Poster: Inception

Inception

Directed by Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by Christopher Nolan

Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur
Ellen Page as Ariadne
Tom Hardy as Eames
Ken Watanabe as Saito
Dileep Rao as Yusuf
Cillian Murphy as Robert Fischer, Jr.
Tom Berenger as Browning

CLR Rating: 5/5 stars

Movie Still: Inception

Ellen Page (as Ariadne) and Leonardo DiCaprio (as Cobb) in the sci-fi action film Inception
[Photo by Melissa Moseley]

An Exploration into the Complexities of the Human Mind
Results in the Best Film of 2010

 

Try as we might, we can’t begin to comprehend the complexity, necessity, and peculiarity of dreams. Scientists, writers, and filmmakers have delved into the human mind but the unconscious brain remains a completely alien space. When it comes to fictional portrayals of the inner sanctum of the mind, nothing has ever done it better than Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Inception, written and directed by Nolan (The Dark Knight, Memento), is easily the best film of 2010 (so far). The film successfully maps out the complex topography of the human mind, the terrifying and exhilarating nature of dreams, and in so doing, becomes as unforgettable as it is infinitely watchable. Inception is one of the year’s most anticipated films due to its teaser trailers, which left everything to the imagination while depicting stunningly malleable cityscapes and midair fight scenes underscored by throbbing orchestral music. If you did your research after catching one of the teasers, you might’ve grasped a vague concept involving idea theft, psychological espionage, and the architecture of dreams. What you didn’t realize was the sheer artistry of the concept, the multi-layered, misunderstood, and labyrinthine nature of the human mind, and the way film—in itself a dreamlike medium—can portray the landscape of the psyche.

Frankly, it would take an entire review to elucidate the concept of Inception (and besides, you may need a second viewing to fully grasp the myriad details you may have missed upon first, slack-jawed viewing). In a world where technology exists that allows us to dive inside another person’s brain, to commit intellectual and emotional thievery, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the best “Extractor” in the business. His team includes Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is something like an anesthesiologist, controlling the entering and leaving of the dream state; and Nash (Lukas Haas), the “architect,” or engineer of dreamscapes. In the first scenes of the film, Cobb and his team meet a formidable match in Saito (Ken Watanabe). Though their extraction mission fails and they lose Nash in the process, Saito offers them a job: convince Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy) to break up the massive empire left to him in the wake of his father’s death. Without ado, Cobb picks up a new architect, a college student named Ariadne (Ellen Page), and recruits Eames (Tom Hardy) and Yusuf (Dileep Rao). They begin scheming an “inception,” or planting of an idea, in Fischer’s brain, but the concept of depositing an idea in someone’s head isn’t nearly as simple as it may seem. As the film progresses, we discover that not all is well with Cobb, that his past and his subconscious are interfering with the dreams he manipulates.

Inception is a psychological action-thriller that completely redefines the genre. Flawless pacing, spectacular effects, gorgeous sets and cinematography, and ingenious writing interweave to create a film unlike anything you’ve ever seen. As a species, we are defined by our innate curiosity, our desire to seek answers to the most complex questions. Inception doesn’t offer answers, per se, but poses a theoretical concept that seems infinitely possible, mostly due to the brilliant construction of the physical dream world. As Cobb and Ariadne (whose namesake in Greek mythology is the goddess of the labyrinth) learn to engineer and navigate their collective dreams, the world turns topsy-turvy. Gravity and physics—those concepts on which the very fabric of our sanity is built—become meaningless. The result is dizzying and magnificent. One hesitates to use those old clichés, to call such a movie a “nail biter” or an “edge of your seat thriller,” but clichés are there for a reason, and viewers will most likely find themselves grinning, cringing, and collectively breathing sighs of relief (especially during and after an intense anti-gravity fight scene).

The film’s performers are wholly compelling in their respective roles. Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy have a cheeky rapport that’s necessary for such an intense film; DiCaprio is, as usual, utterly convincing; Page (Juno), whose stature and mannerisms still peg her as a very young actress, displays laudable composure and intelligence; the insanely gorgeous Marion Cotillard is both ethereal and eerie as Cobb’s wife Mal. Nolan’s 2008 film The Dark Knight garnered critical praise unlike any other superhero movie—because it wasn’t one. Part of what set that film apart from others in its genre was its pacing, editing, and music. Cinematographer Wally Pfister returned to work with Nolan on Inception, creating dreamscapes so real and yet so unimaginable. Costume designer Jeffrey Kurland utilized patterns, textures, and a gorgeous palette to emphasize the hyper-reality of a manufactured reverie. Editor Lee Smith fashioned a movie whose pacing speeds the heart and leaves you breathless; a few jarring cuts may distract the viewer, but that’s purposeful. Hans Zimmer, whose music for The Dark Knight helped cement that film as one of the best in the last decade, returned to create an equally gorgeous and thrumming score that buffets the film’s fantastic events. The special effects crew painstakingly molded a world where nothing is as stable as it seems. All the threads weave together impeccably, leaving a finished product that feels completely original and flawless—a masterpiece.

Film itself is a dreamlike medium whose capacity for imagination is infinite. The Lumière brothers’ 1895 film The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station thrilled nineteenth-century viewers by making a train hit them head-on, and Georges Méliès’s La Voyage dans le Lune (1902) was one of the first films to depict the thrillingly impossible. Those early filmmakers may not have possessed modern technology, but they understood one thing: film is a fantastic and unreal medium, a place in which the viewer can escape everyday life and enter a whole other world where nothing is impossible. Inception is the latest incarnation of that concept: the impossible becomes reality and the human mind is laid bare for all to see, for better or worse. In the case of Inception, we are all the better for it.

Movie Review: Avatar (12/19/09)

Movie Poster: Avatar

Avatar

Directed by James Cameron
Screenplay by James Cameron

Jake Sully – Sam Worthington
Neytiri – Zoë Saldana
Grace – Sigourney Weaver
Col. Miles Quaritch – Stephen Lang
Trudy Chacon – Michelle Rodriguez
Parker Selfridge – Giovanni Ribisi
Norm Spellman – Joel David Moore
Moat – CCH Pounder

CLR Rating: 3.5/5

Movie Still: Invictus

Sam Worthington as Jake Sully and Zoë Saldana as Neytiri
in James Cameron’s sci-fi thriller Avatar

[Photo credit: WETA. ®2009 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved]

This Visual Masterpiece is a Must-see Despite a Dreadful Script

James Cameron’s resume is extensive and vividly familiar to anyone who’s ever had the notion to watch science fiction films. The man brought us the screenplay for Alien, then he directed the first two Terminator movies, then he was behind Titanic, one of the highest-grossing films in history. It shouldn’t be a surprise that once again, he’s ahead of the technological curve with this year’s holiday release, Avatar.

For Avatar, a movie the director has dreamed about since his twenties, Cameron used a “physics based sim” and a modified version of the Fusion camera to create a three-dimensional experience like absolutely none other. The movie has been heralded as a turning point for film technology, and frankly, that is probably true. The film is, visually at least, wholly unlike any other movie you’ve ever seen. Due to the technology Cameron used (and helped to invent, according to advance press), CG in Avatar doesn’t enhance the movie, it is the movie—but watching the flora and fauna of Pandora doesn’t feel like watching CG. In 3D, the film is an experience in immersion: once the characters are placed onto the moon Pandora, the audience is drowned in gorgeous scenery the likes of which earth has never seen before.

The film follows Jake Sully, a marine who lost the use of his legs in battle, as he travels to Pandora, a moon orbiting a far off planet, ostensibly in order to play dual roles as security guard for researchers and military spy. Sully and his counterparts are Avatar drivers, which means they inhabit surrogate creatures created from a mix of human and native DNA. The natives, called the Na’vi, are twelve-foot tall, blue-skinned, cat-eyed humanoids whose behavior and rituals are similar to that of Native Americans. They are a highly spiritual and naturalistic tribe whose connection to their planet lies not just in their ancestry, but in actual biological synthesis with its creatures and vegetation. If this all sounds silly, that’s because it is.

Historically science fiction allows immense room for playing with societal concerns. The Red Scare, the Cold war, fears of the A-bomb, mistrust toward technology, racism, environmental issues: all have been tackled by sci-fi’s greatest authors and filmmakers. In the current economic and social climate, this year’s science fiction films have taken on hot-button issues including human greed, apartheid (District 9), and ecology. It can’t be a coincidence that in the year’s best science fiction humans are the enemy. In Avatar, the greedy corporate CEO (Giovanni Ribisi) and the seasoned, hardcore colonel (Stephen Lang) lock horns with biological researcher Grace (Sigourney Weaver) and her team of avid conservationists. As well as being home to the Na’vi, Pandora is populated by a natural fuel resource the government will literally kill for.

The story and script fail to create multifaceted characters, sticking instead to the inherent malevolence of military invasion and corporate America’s insatiable appetite for resources and money. In our current time of war and economic instability, these are significant social issues, but the film handles them ham-handedly, pitting stock characters against one another in an epic moral (and physical) battle between conservation and greed. The dialogue and Jake’s voice-over are terribly written (Cameron is also responsible for the screenplay), and the characters are static. Anyone who’s seen a science fiction film before will know the tropes: man travels to another world, falls in love, and ends up fighting for the culture he ostensibly came to study/gain resources from/demolish. Luckily the movie is a visual spectacle; else it would be yet another played-out sci-fi epic.

Cameron has been in the news recently regarding his tendency to write strong female roles. In a lengthy New Yorker article, he mentions that in order to create strong women, you write dialogue for men and then change the names. Sigourney Weaver’s career truly began with her role as Ripley in Alien (a character whose masculine tendencies are highly debated in feminist film criticism), and she returns to Cameron to play another strong-willed but ultimately doomed character. Grace smokes like a chimney, curses like a sailor (as much as can be done in a PG-13 film, anyway), and she’s willing to resort to physical combat for her beliefs. Zoë Saldana’s Na’vi love interest Neytiri and Michelle Rodriguez’s fighter pilot Trudy are yet other dominant females, but Cameron is no feminist ally. In a Playboy interview, he discussed how to create the perfect alien breasts for Neytiri, although the Na’vi aren’t placental mammals and therefore don’t require breasts. He knows how to appeal to teenage boys, and he does it well.

Visually, the film is truly a masterwork. Pandora is an affectionately rendered bioluminescent paradise. Characters physically link to their surroundings via grasping tentacles that appear from their long braids. Seeds float through the air like jellyfish, flora gleam with incandescent radiance when touched, and creatures unlike any you’ve seen before synthesize a world that is as unfamiliar to us as the bottom of the sea. But the magnificent flying creatures and the gorgeous vegetation feel so real you could reach into the screen and stroke them.

Though the movie is flawed and ham-handed, it’s imperative to view in the theater; the visual splendor and realism are absolutely jaw dropping. Home theater technology hasn’t advanced enough yet to be able to support a film like this one, so if there’s any movie you see in theaters this year, it should be Avatar. It’s a challenge not to be completely captivated and immersed despite the script’s laughable stupidity, and audiences searching for an escape from the winter doldrums will not be disappointed.

Movie Review: 9 (9/11/09)

poster_99

Directed by Shane Acker
Written by Pamela Pettler (screenplay), Shane Acker (story)

 

Voices:
No. 9 – Elijah Wood
No. 5 – John C. Reilly
No. 7 – Jennifer Connelly
No. 1 – Christopher Plummer
No. 6 – Crispin Glover
No. 2 – Martin Landau

CLR Rating: 3.5/5 stars

still_9

STITCHPUNKS CARRY ON IN A WORLD WITHOUT HUMANS

Attaching big names like Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted and Night Watch) to an animated film is a smart way to draw audiences. Add stars like Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, and Christopher Plummer to voice the characters, and the movie may just break the box office. While the dialogue of Shane Acker’s 9 is not particularly incisive, and at times it’s even downright cheesy, the visual dynamics of the film keep it moving. The stitchpunks are tiny creatures made of fabric, zippers, thread, buttons, and minute mechanical clockworks (expect trick-or-treaters decked out in pillows and potato sacks this Halloween). Their names are numbers, 1 to 9. Throughout the film they encounter machine after machine, each more terrifying than the last, struggling to discover why they exist and how they can survive.

9 is a renovated version of the technapocalypse that paranoiacs have been dreading for years. Underlying the film’s premise is a tense suggestion that human inventions will outlast us all. While its format gives it an automatic bent toward a younger audience, the premise and execution make it a heavily adult film. The tone feels similar to some of Don Bluth’s cartoons of the 1980s. In The Secret of NIMH (1982) and All Dogs Go to Heaven(1989), religion, science, and intelligent dialogue meshed oddly with cute animals and a distinctly dark sensibility (NIMH is, of course, about the horrors inherently created by animal testing, and All Dogs Go to Heaven bestows in canines the very human traits of hatred, love, and belief in God and heaven). In 9, charming little creatures Acker calls “stitchpunks” struggle to survive in a world in which nothing human remains. At a meager 80 minutes long, 9 is a quickie fix for beautiful animation, imaginative monsters, and technological breakthroughs (in a number of ways).

The film is truly gorgeous to behold. Starz Animation has officially given Pixar a run for its money. Each surface is textured minutely; the film feels so real the audience could almost reach into the screen and scoop up a stitchpunk for themselves. The spooky brain monster against which the creatures must defend themselves is reminiscent of the machines in The Matrix—a glowing, glaring red eye centered in a mass of metallic tentacles. Though the voice actors are talented, the dialogue is few, far between, and unimportant to the film’s plot. This movie is eye candy.

9 is an intelligent, wondrous piece of animation that will leave audiences rapt. It experiments with themes that have been explored before, and it doesn’t do much differently with them. The film’s last line hands the world to the audience. “The world is ours now, “ says 9, “It is what we make of it.” Indeed it is, and the film seems to beg that as we strive for technological innovations, we not lose ourselves in the process.