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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » September 30, 2009
Film review
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September 30, 2009 By Witold Żygulski   
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In 2006, Shane Acker made the 11-minute silent film 9, which earned him international recognition as well as an Academy Award nomination for best animated short film. While he didn't win the famous little statuette, he did catch the eye of Tim Burton, one of the most flamboyantly idiosyncratic directors of the last 20 years. Burton, responsible for Edward Scissorhands, Planet of the Apes, Corpse Bride and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, hardly needs to prove his credentials. Burton is the producer of Acker's new 9, a nearly 80-minute-long adaptation of the earlier short film. His co-producer is the equally idiosyncratic Timur Bekmambetov, the Russian-Kazakh director of the adaptations of the cult Russian fantasy books Night Watch and Day Watch, as well as the recent Hollywood-made Wanted, the sequel to which he is currently directing.

What prompted Burton and Bekmambetov to take on this latest project will probably remain known only to them. The outcome is less than overwhelming. This post-apocalyptic tale of rag dolls endowed with the power of speech, as well as other skills such as martial arts, and who do battle amid the rubble of civilization with mysterious red-eyed monster machines, bores after the first 15 minutes. Although the animation is of a high standard at times, the same can be said of children's cartoons on television. The story doesn't draw the viewer in, the heroes fail to elicit the requisite amount of sympathy, the ending is predictable, and the whole effort leaves the audience yawning.

Above all, Acker's film is peppered with "creative borrowings". In recent years this kind of help-yourself approach to someone else's ideas has come to be labeled, somewhat indulgently and euphemistically, as a "post-modern play with convention" or "an inter-textual homage to film history," instead of the more precise and honest description it deserves: a blatant rip-off. It is hard not to notice that the best scenes in 9 are directly lifted from films such as Terminator, or the Star Wars saga, or Lord of the Rings, or from many others, for that matter. This even goes for the main characters: one of the machines is a dead ringer for General Grievous in Revenge of the Sith; one of the dolls bears a striking resemblance to a creature from Mummy Returns, and so on. Add to this the choice of Elijah Wood, who played Frodo in Lord of the Rings, as the voice of the main character, and the "creative borrowing" becomes heavy-handed, the ubiquitous referencing of other films starts to grate.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the scriptwriters have made another wrong turn in choosing to add a ponderous historical allusion to the story. In the flashback scenes, a dictator resembling Adolf Hitler appears. It is his scheming that has caused the machines created by a well-meaning scientist to turn against man.

While all this may satisfy undemanding comic book fans, or perhaps loyal Burton admirers, anyone else will be breathing a sigh of relief when the closing credits appear-if they make it that far.
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