2009 // USA // Shane Acker // January 10, 2010 // DVD - Universal (2009)
B - Shane Acker's talent for nimble, evocative world-building is on full display in 9. It's telling that even at a lean 79 minutes, the film still feels a bit padded and sluggish on the story front, given that all the satisfying setting crunchiness is delivered swiftly and efficiently. Acker deftly establishes the essential traits of his post-apocalyptic world and the clan of burlap-skinned homunculi that inhabit it, while leaving plenty to implication and imagination, including the precise mechanics of the setting's steampunk-tinged alchemical magic. Perhaps unexpectedly, the nine little doll-folk are quite distinctive, both visually and as characters, but the real draw here is not the simplistic story--a hero awakens evil and then defeats evil, etc.--but the richness of the blasted landscape, the uncanny menace of the monsters that stalk it, and the thrills of numerous small-scale battles and escapes. Even the vague, unnecessarily drawn-out ending doesn't markedly detract from 9's guiltless visceral appeal, which is that of a novel, densely detailed world sketched with precision and enthusiasm. Acker gratifyingly demonstrates that not only aren't the fantasy, science-fiction, and dystopian genres dead, they're often found in the same film, and a gorgeously animated one at that.