On the surface, 9 might seem a fable for the post-apocalyptic age. Built on the premise of what burden must be shouldered by machines after people are gone, this dark fantasy hasn't much to say. The eponymous hero, with or without companions as circumstances dictate, runs frantically from one pile of ruin to another with an all-too human motive: survival. Perhaps this is the legacy of humankind, to invest our mechanical progeny with an instinct for self-preservation.
What passes for the "message" is that human folly, here in the form of blind, slobbering love of technology, will be our ultimate undoing. What? Machines will destroy us? But, wait, there's more. 9 and his fellows, zipper-chested dolls one and all, are the remnant of humanity's dream of... well, technology adoration. The frantic to and fro of said zippery munchkins is done in the noble cause of keeping alive the flame of techno-love.
Can you blame me for wishing the film had less to say?
While there is much to delight the eye, for the brain it's thin pickings. The film has run half its length and already you feel like an armageddon scavenger, hoping desperately for a meaty scrap to carry you through to the finale. Adding to the empty calories is banal dialogue the only aim of which seems a quest for cliche. Fine voice acting is wasted on empty phrases that state the obvious or add some hackneyed platitude that distracts your attention from where it belongs, namely the incredible, sometimes awe-inspiring visuals.
I'd love to see 9 with the dialogue edited out. The storytelling is effective and conveys everything we need to know. Quality film-making is measured by visual comprehension. Dialogue lends nuance and dimension to what we're seeing, and when instead it condescends with reactive statements like, "You can't go there!" or "Why did you do that?", it detracts from overall enjoyment. In the case of a talking-heads live-action blockbuster, this justifies writing a film off entirely. When it comes to a clever piece of work as 9, the production design and screenwriter are at odds, and what is beautifully stated in sections where dialogue is minimal or absent comes off clamorous everywhere else, calling attention to the vapidity of the tale, which unfortunately, bad dialogue or not, has nothing of any substance to convey.