I’ve seen a lot of movies this week, but 9, the
new animated movie produced by Tim Burton (The Corpse Bride, Edward Scissorhands) and Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Night Watch, Day Watch), is easily
the most disappointing.
the WORST movie I’ve seen this week (that distinction is saved for My One And
Only)… it’s just the one that most failed to live up to expectations.
Quick rundown of the story: 9 follows a band of human-like dolls (known, according to
Wikipedia, as “stitchpunks”—although this is never referenced in the movie) as
they fight they fight for their survival on post-apocalyptic Earth. Stitchpunks are the world’s last
“living” survivors, hiding in fear from an evil mechanical brain and its
legions of grotesque animal-like robots.
The actual plot begins when one of the stichpunks, 9 (stitchpunks are numbered
instead of named), inexplicably come to life in the laboratory of the scientist
who created him and discovers six other dolls living secretly in the
ruins of the surrounding city. 9
also has with him a strange talisman he discovered in the lab… but when it’s
stolen by a giant robotic dog, which also kidnaps one of 9’s new friends, he
and the other stitchpunks set out to retrieve them both. What follows is a Lord of the
Rings-inspired adventure as the stitchpunks attempt to retrieve the mysterious
talisman and save their world.
And… that’s about it.
You get some tidbits of backstory, briefly explaining how
the brain and its machines took over the world, but this movie’s biggest
problem—and its biggest lesson to screenwriters—is that it’s lacking
storytelling’s most important element: STORY. It has plot, a structured sequence of events, but it lacks
the context it needs to give those events meaning or relevance.
I.e.—we never know what the machines want, why they’re
destroying the stitchpunks, why they destroyed humanity, or what the
stitchpunks want (aside from survival; what would they do to the world if they
could eradicate the evil machines?).
As a result, nothing in the movie has any meaning. There are some chilling and creepy
visuals… and some clever action sequences (and a nice creepy moment where the
giant brain lumbers toward the stitchpunks while “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
plays in the background), but it’s hard to be interested when we have no larger
context for what’s going on. We
never even know, until the final moments, why the stitchpunks’ talisman is
important. THEY don’t even know
why it’s important! They simply
know that it IS… and only at the very end of the story do we learn why it’s
We slowly get some hints to the context and backstory as we
go along, but it’s hard to care about a mystery when the ultimate answer to
that mystery is an explanation of WHY we should have been caring all along.
In other words… there’s no Macguffin in this movie, nothing
the stitchpunks are chasing or trying to solve. The reason they’re going on this adventure… is to learn why
they’re going on this adventure. And
even when we get that final answer, it makes little sense. It has something to do with souls, yet
the explanation is so flimsy it’s essentially a non-answer. Which is ironic, because ultimately,
this movie about the soullessness of machines turns out to have no soul itself.
One other important screenwriting lesson… and something I
think, as writers, we often take for granted when putting together a story (or
at least, I do… and this movie reminded me not to stop thinking about it):
9, the main stitchpunk, has virtually no arc. He does not change or grow at all
He starts the movie as naively heroic, determined to do the right thing
because… well… it’s right, and he doesn’t recognize the dangers that will stand
in the way. And at the end of the
movie… he’s the exact same person, a naïve hero (I guess he’s arguably slightly
less naïve because he’s now faced some monsters, but this hardly seems like an engaging
arc… especially because it’s not dramatized in any way).
There were plenty of opportunities for the filmmakers to give
9 an arc… he could’ve begun as a coward and ended up finding heroic strength
and courage. He could have begun
as a blind optimist and ended up jaded and world-weary. He could have begun as a hero who will
stop at nothing to get what he wants and ended as a pragmatist who learns some
battles aren’t worth fighting. He
could have begun complacent or apathetic and ended up righteous and
passionate. But no… he experiences
none of these emotional journeys.
…And neither, sadly, does the audience.
Anyway, here’s the trailer, which– strangely– gives you more information up front than the actual movie does in the first hour…