9 [2009] [Blu-ray] [USA Release] A Stunningly Original Animated Masterpiece! 

From visionary filmmakers Tim Burton [‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’] and Timur Bekmambetov [‘Wanted’] and Academy Award® nominated director Shane Acker comes this visually stunning and original epic adventure. In the final days of humanity, a dedicated scientist gives the spark of life to nine of his creations. The world has turned into an unrecognisable landscape of machines and spare parts, but this group of nine finds that if they band together, their small community might just be able to change the course of history. Featuring the voice talents of Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly and Crispin Glover, it’s a thrilling, suspenseful story critics call “Spellbinding!” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times).

FILM FACT No.1: Awards and Nominations: 2009 Golden Schmoes Awards: Nominated: Best Animated Movie of the Year. 2009 Houston Film Critics Society Awards: Nominated: Best Animated film. 2009 Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards: Nominated: Best Animated Film. 2010 Annie Awards: Nominated: Best Animated Effects for Alexander Feigin. Nominated: Best Production Design for Christophe Vacher. 2010 Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA: Nominated: Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing and Sound Effects, Foley, Music, Dialogue and ADR Animation in a Feature Film for Dennie Thorpe (foley artist), Jana Vance (foley artist), Jeremy Bowker (sound effects editor), Jill Purdy (supervising dialogue editor), Luke Dunn Gielmuda (sound effects editor), Pascal Garneau (supervising foley editor, foley editor), Shie Rozow (music editor) and Will Files (supervising sound editor, sound designer). 2010 PGA Awards: Nominated: Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures for Jim Lemley, Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov. 2010 Visual Effects Society Awards: Nominated: Outstanding Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture for Jinko Gotoh (co-producer), Joe Ksander (animation director) and Ken Duncan (animation supervisor).  

FILM FACT No.2: Machines “9” encounters: The Cat Beast, The Fabrication Machine/B.R.A.I.N. (Binary Reactive Artificially Intelligent Neurocircuit), The Winged Beast (pterodactyl like machine), The Seamstress (cobra like robot), Seekers (large hot air balloon like machines), Spiderbots (small tarantula like robots) and Steel Behemoths (large two-legged Fabrication Machine autonomous weapons)

Voice Cast: Christopher Plummer (#1 voice), Martin Landau (#2 voice), John C. Reilly (#3 voice), Crispin Glover(#4 voice), Jennifer Connelly(#5 voice), Fred Tatasciore (#8 voice/Radio Announcer), Elijah Wood (#9 voice), Alan Oppenheimer (Scientist), Tom Kane (The Chancellor/Dictator) and Helen Wilson (News Caster voice)    

Director: Shane Acker

Producers: Dana Ginsburg, Graham Moloy, Jim Lemley, Jinko Gotoh, Lilian Eche, Marci Levine, Pierre Urbain, Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov

Screenplay: Pamela Pettler (screenplay) and Shane Acker (story)

Composer: Deborah Lurie

Cinematography: Kevin R. Adams (Director of Photography)

Image Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Audio: English: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Digital Surround Sound
French: 5.1 DTS-HD Surround Sound

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish and French

Running Time: 79 minutes

Region: All Regions

Number of discs: 1

Studio: Universal Pictures / Focus Features

Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: The film ‘9’ [2009] is a time in the too-near future. An animated future dystopia that is powered and enabled by the invention known as the “Great Machine” in which the world's machines have turned on mankind and sparked social unrest, decimating the human population before being largely shut down. But as our world fell to pieces, a mission began to salvage the legacy of civilization; a group of small creations was given the spark of life by a scientist in the final days of humanity, and they continue to exist post-apocalypse. With their group so few, these stitch-punk creations must summon individual strengths well beyond their own proportions in order to outwit and fight against still-functioning machines, one of which is a marauding mechanised beast.

In the film ‘9’ it is just before the Scientist dies, we see an introduction and explanation from the Scientist who tells us his words and creates “9” and the film now starts when the rope that held the rag doll “9” finally snaps, and “9” falls to the desk including the talisman. “9” starts to look at his surroundings and finds the talisman, he briefly sees the Scientist lying dead on the floor covered in papers which shocks him. “9” then looks out the window and sees that the world has been left in total ruins and looking at the total wasteland of the Nation, “9” sees something moving and tries to call it but finds out that he can't speak.

“9” discovers a small community of others like him taking refuge from fearsome machines that roam the earth intent on their extinction. Despite being the neophyte of the group, who is a beginner; a person who is new to a subject, skill, or belief, despite this “9” convinces the others that hiding will do them no good. They must take the offensive if they are to survive, and they must discover why the machines want to destroy them in the first place. As they'll soon come to learn, the very future of civilisation may depend on them. All humans are gone, and it is only by chance that he discovers a small community of others like him taking refuge from fearsome machines that roam the earth intent on their extinction.

Story wise, into this post-apocalyptic universe enters the title character “9” [voiced by Elijah Woods], a living puppet made of cloth, armatures, a bit of science, and some interesting Eastern European alchemy. At his “birth” “9” doesn’t truly know what, if any purpose he has. It’s only when he meets the others who were built like him, particularly “2” [voiced by Martin Landau] gives him a tune-up, and “9” begins asking questions and “5” [John C. Reilly] that he starts developing his own reason for his existence and fans of any decent science fiction will be figuring out what it is. And one of the virtues of this ‘9’ animated film, compared to its shorter predecessor animated film, both were directed by Shane Acker, who wrote the feature with Pamela Pettler, that does not rush towards any answers. Instead it lingers in a strange, sinister and brilliantly realised virtual landscape that is rich with allusions to the histories of painting, animation, fantastic literature and 20th-century totalitarianism.

With this animated film ‘9’ director Shane Acker, well the big question has been asked whether it is a good animated film or not? Also whether audiences around the world were ready for this very audacious directorial debut and thought provoking animated film? Well to me the answer is a massive yes, as it is a totally fantastic unique animated film that fills your image with wonder, as well as amazing computer animation. The story behind the making of “9” is interesting in its own right, especially with Steve Acker was slowly climbing up the animation ladder thanks in large part to the three shorts he created, ‘The Hangnail’ [1999], ‘The Astounding Talents of Mr. Grenade’ [2003] and finally, a short version of ‘9’ [2005] that earned Shane Acker an Oscar® nomination.

They say ‘9’ was heavily influenced by stop motion surrealists Jan Svankmayer and the Brothers Quay, the cohesive plotting of the Academy Award® nomination caught the attention of no less than director/producer Tim Burton. From there on, Tim Burton brought in the Russian maverick director Timur Bekmambatov, who is a Russian-Kazakh film director known for vampire franchise who produced ‘Night Watch’ [2004], ‘Daywatch’ [2006] and ‘Wanted’ [2008] and those films convinced Focus Features to finance a full-length ‘9’ animated film feature and after a four and half years production of a gruelling schedule, we can now view the fruits of his endeavours.

Visually, the animated film ‘9’ has to be the most stunning experience ever produced in the animated film world ever since the first ‘Toy Story.’ That does not mean in that cute and fuzzy scenario department either. Instead “9” is as revolutionary a tour de force as ‘Toy Story’ was in 1995. Combining two well-worn, endlessly fertile science fiction conceits, such as the post-apocalyptic planet and the sensitive machine and Shane Acker has made a parable of technological peril that is both exciting and satisfyingly enigmatic. Though he uses the latest computer-assisted techniques, his aesthetic has a pleasingly creaky, handmade feel, as if his main tools were not a mouse and a keyboard but rather a needle and thread.

Director Shane Acker has visual signatures similar to Jan Švankmajer, a Czech filmmaker and artist whose work spans several media, the Brothers Quays [Stephen and Timothy Quay], Ji'í Trnka the Czech puppet-maker, illustrator, motion-picture animator and film director and all those highly Eastern Euro-influenced stop motion masters and successfully translated them into CGI. Adding in his own personal tastes, especially the Wachowskis [Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski] and other masters of post-apocalyptic settings, the film carries its own gritty integrity while adding the flawless movement of well-rendered CGI. In plain English, the “wow” factor of this animated film's graphics and sequences are truly off the meter. Every time you think Shane Acker can’t do any better, and Steve Acker succeeds in topping himself again, again and again.

This still leaves the question of how American audiences reacted to this animated film, as I have not heard any sort of review or comment on this animated film alone and only came upon this Blu-ray by accident and cannot understand why it has taken me this long to find out about this animated film. Quite frankly, I suspect it probably was a huge hit in Europe, especially where Shane Acker’s aforementioned influences of the highly Eastern Euro-influenced stop motion that Shane Acker revered like a minor saints and I suspect and not surprised that I suspect it did very well in Japan, which has its share of successful stop-motion mavericks such as Kihachiro Kawamoto. Even in Canada, which reveres Norman McLaren, probably equally praised this animated film.

But one thing has to be said that in America that the unfortunate unpalatable truth is, that by American standards,  ‘9’ is graphically at least five years ahead of its time, a circumstance Tim Burton should already be quite familiar with this. After all, Tim Burton produced ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ and ‘The Corpse Bride,’ which were two animated films which only earned acceptance years after their original release. And when it comes to Shane Acker’s feature-length debut, it should be filed along with those two Tim Burton animated films as well as ‘The Iron Giant.’

“9” and his brethren, is seen scuttling through bombed-out buildings like partisans in an occupied city, evading predatory bird- and spiderlike foes and quarrelling among themselves, also try to piece together their own history. Their inquiry is both metaphysical and who made them, and practical: what are they made of, and how does it work and why? Answers are parcelled out in quieter moments and in vivid rushes of imagery that punctuate the fights and flights.

The action scenes are breathless and intense, the ravenous villains are frightening to behold, and the overall mood is probably too dark and anxious for very young children. But every effort to expand the range of feature-length animation beyond the confines of cautious family fare is to be welcomed, and budding techno and fantasy geeks are likely to be intrigued and enthralled by the whole of the very inventive animated film.

Blu-ray Image Quality – Universal Pictures delivers us a totally spectacular high-definition 1080p encoded presentation that is on par with Henry Selick's ‘CORALINE’ animated 3D film. They have given us the blend of computer-generated animation and stop-motion work through a real stunning brilliant Blu-ray disc and despite being in 2D; you sometimes get the impression of a 3D dimensional side of things. We also get sublimely detailed and rich offering of complete CGI material and Shane Acker's vision is densely textured, both in the character models and the surrounding environment, and Universal's image replicate every ounce of its beauty. While the animated film is bathed in browns and blacks, the giant red eye of “The Machine” leaps off the screen in stunning clarity. Speaking of clarity, fine detail is pumped up to maximum, rivalling any of the recent releases by PIXAR Animation Studios. The stitching and the crosshatch of the puppets are always discernible; they are also very precise and very clear. At one point in the film a very, very slight bit of aliasing can be detected around “The Machine.” Other than that, this is a top notch Blu-ray video presentation.

Blu-ray Audio Quality – Universal Pictures brings you a totally rich and superb 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sound experience, especially as it is a very active action-adventure animated film, filled with tons of clanking metal, roaring from the mechanical beast, and plenty of boisterous low-end rumbling from a slew of different sources. All of that thunders throughout the sound track with firm captivation, keeping deep blasts of sound from pounding too hard and low-to-mid effects both crisp and mindful of the treble-bass balance. There's a wealth of delicate distanced effects present in the sublime sound design that are preserved elegantly here, like graceful incorporation of Deborah Lurie's original music and ambient sound effects like wind and dust. On top of all that, you get to hear every ounce of the star-studded dialogue with some stunning clarity as the track, that is brilliantly clear and definitely a terrific environmental sound design that gives all of your speakers a good workout and will impress any guests you invite to view this brilliant animated film and if you want to show someone what high definition bass sounds like, then this Blu-ray disc will really and definitely impress them.

Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:

Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Shane Acker, Animation Director Joe Ksander, Head of Story Ryan O'Loughlin and Editor Nick Kenway: Here we are welcomed to the very informed Directors Commentary by the following people that includes Shane Acker [Director], Joe Ksander [Animator Director], Ryan O'Loughlin [Head of Story] and Nick Kenway [Editor]. They all comment about the tome of the music to enhance the mysterious atmosphere of the animated film, especially while the character “9” is being created and of course we see the world through the eyes of “9” and of course discovering who “9” is as we follow his adventure in this virtual devastated world. They all agree that they felt it had to have a European scenario setting of a destroyed city particular in Vienna at the end of the Second World War. When “9” meets the other rag dolls, the crew talk about each of the characters that are left and what their numbers mean, especially towards their specific characters and foible personality. They all have a very good chemistry together, and the conversation rarely slow down as some audio commentaries can seem to do at times. Shane Acker is always excited to discuss parts of the production, and seeing his short film turned into a feature-length animated film. Shane Acker and the other contributors are always persistent, enthusiastic, and highly enlightening on both the process of building the animation and the shading and lighting image qualities of the animated film. It talks about the action sequences, realism behind the mechanised creatures, and historical reflection on the design of the animated film. They also talk about the clouds a lot and how they were produced. But with some of their comments it went slightly over my head with so much detail, but despite this I really enjoyed all their enthusiastic comments and you really get the impression they really enjoyed the project, I do hope there is a follow up animated film, especially with the rain drops suspended in the air, as they sort of hinted they might see what comes from the rain drops. So all in all a great audio commentary so please give it a try and enjoy.

Special Feature: Deleted Scenes [2009] [1080p] [1.78:1] [7:24] Here you get a selection of Five deleted scenes that are entitled The Truth Revealed; Throw Me the End of Your Rope; The Fall Out; Taking the Offensive and The Scientist’s Legacy. They are not comprised of finalised polished up animation, because for the most part they are just storyboards that are partially animated. You can as usual watch each one individually or Play All.

Special Feature: 9 – The Long and Short of It [2009] [1080p] [1.78:1] [16:28] Here you get to view the original ‘9’ animated short that Shane Acker [Director] created as his thesis project at the film school at UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles] and explains his thoughts about the creation of his animated film and especially learning about 3D animation. Tim Burton saw the animated short and was immediately interested in producing a full-length animated film version. This film is full of imaginative creativity, and is just as exciting to watch as the feature itself. There is no dialogue here, but none is needed. Shane Acker has such deep admiration for the original short that it is really great fun to hear him talk about it and the passion he felt for making the animated film. We also get very nice insightful and in-depth input on how the animated film ‘9’ came into fruition, especially from the following contributors and they are Kristin Solid [Supervising Animator]; Elijah Wood [Voice of “9”]; Jim Lemley [Producer] who is an is an American film and television producer based in Paris and best known for his work on the hit action-thriller film ‘Wanted;’ Pamela Pettler [Screenwriter] and her credits include the stop motion films ‘Monster House,’ ‘Corpse Bride’ and ‘9;’ Jennifer Connelly [Voice of “7”]; Timur Bekmambetov who is a Kazakh director, producer and screenwriter who has worked on films, music videos and commercials; Tim Burton [Producer]; Crispin Glover [Voice of “6”]; Martin Landau [Voice of “2”]; Regina Conroy [Story Artist]; Joe Ksander [Animation Director]; Robert J. St. Pierre [Production Designer]; Ryan O’Loughlin [Head of Story]; and Jeff Bell [Visual Effects Supervisor: Starz Animation]. All in all this is a really nice feature documentary and what was so nice is how everyone really enjoyed working on the animated film ‘9’ and especially working with Shane Acker who they felt was such a really nice person and especially a very inventive person to work with, who inspired everyone to work their heart out on producing this ground breaking animated film.

Special Feature: On Tour with Shane Acker [2009] [1080p] [1.78:1] [5:36] Here we get to explore with Shane Acker [Director] a quick tour around the STARZ Animation Studio in Toronto who gives us an insight into the world of visual storytelling, through design, through colour and texture, while at the same time gives us a brief and brilliant tour of the different departments that worked on the animated film ‘9.’ It really is amazing to see how many people it took to make the animated film '9,' when it only took Shane Acker and no one else to make his first original animated short. First up we get to visit the Editorial Department and we get to meet Nick Kenway [Editor] where we find him working on his computer and where a lot of work was done on producing the animated film ‘9.’ Next stop on the tour is the Art Department, where all the ideas of the script and try to figure out how to transfer all this into the animated film. Next stop on the tour is the Modelling Department, where they create the characters and the virtual world via their computer. Next stop on the tour is the Animation Department, where after they have designed the characters and the modelling, it then ends up in another particular department, especially the motivations for how the characters should be and react to certain situations, plus getting the audio tracks done for the actors to perform for their part in the animated film, but most importantly the talented computer animators are there to create the action and the emotions of the characters and there we see Kristin Solid [Supervising Animator] working at her computer. Next stop on the tour we find ourselves in the Layout Department and this is where the cinematography takes place and they use the storyboard drawings as a basis, to eventually enhancing the finished 3D frames of the virtual world for the animated film. Next stop on the tour we are in the Effects Department where they create the virtual world to great enhancement and here we meet Warren Lawtey [Visual Effects Supervisor] where they discuss some aspect of a visual explosion on a computer screen. Next stop on the tour is the Lighting and Composition Department; this is where the final stages of the animated film is tweaked to enhance the animated film and here we meet Anna Wagner-Lopez [Lighting and Composition Lead] here we find her discussing a scene on computer screen with Shane Acker. So ends this quick tour of STARZ Animation Studio in Toronto and Shane Acker says that he hopes you have enjoyed the tour. Well I certainly did and was so informative and fascinating in-depth look into the mechanical aspect on how they made the full length ‘9’ animated film.

Special Feature: The Look of “9” [2009] [1080p] [1.78:1] [13:12] Here is another nice featurette that mainly sticks to the unusual aesthetics of '9.' From character design to the feel of the world after war, it's all covered here. Here once again we meet Shane Acker [Director] where we get an in-depth look at all the characters in the animated film and especially a detail look at the virtual parallel world that “9” inhabits. We also get to meet the people behind-the-scene involved in working on the animated film, and they are Elijah Wood [Voice of “9”]; Timur Bekmambetov [Producer]; Robert J. St. Pierre [Production Designer]; Pamela Pettler [Screenwriter]; Jim Lemley [Film Producer], Ryan O’Loughlin [Head of Story]; Matthew Teevan [Head of Production]; Charles Bonifacio [Supervising Animator]; Kevin R. Adams [Art Director/Director of Photography]; Regina Conroy [Story Artist]; Christophe Vacher [Art Director]; Morgan Ginsberg [Supervising Animator]; Joe Ksander [Supervising Animator]; Adam Beck [Supervising Animator]; David Baas [Animation Department Head]; Daryl Graham [Supervising Animator] and Tim Burton [Producer]. Here once again we get another fascinating insight into the making of the brilliant animated film ‘9’ and of course hearing from Shame Acker [Director] and all the talented people at STARZ Animation Studio in Toronto, who inform us why they loved working on this very creative animated film.

Special Feature: Acting Out [2009] [1080p] [1.78:1] [4:54] The animation department talks about what it is like creating emotional and communicative performances with these odd characters. Once again we see behind-the-scene of what went on in producing the animated film ‘9’ and all the dedicated that felt privilege in working for the STARZ Animation Studio in Toronto and the contributors involved in producing the modelling and texture for the animation characters are Joe Ksander [Animation Director]; David Baas [Animation Department Head]; Adam Beck [Supervising Animator]; Shane Acker [Director]; Charles Bonifacio [Supervising Animator]; Daryl Graham [Supervising Animator]; Kristin Solid [Supervising Animator] and Julien Soret [Animator].

Special Feature: ‘9’ – The Original Short [2005] [480i] [1.37:1] [10:32] See how ‘9’ made its first step as an animated film short, and then became a full-scale film production. This is an insightful and thoughtful featurette that takes us through what it was like taking just over 10 minute animated short and eventually creating a full-length animated film from it. The animated short film took four and a half years, on and off, to create and Shane Acker definitely paid homage and great influence to the Brothers Quay and PIXAR animation. Originally Shane Acker wanted to make it as stop motion, but then went for CGI when realising it would have turned out to be far too expensive. The music was provided by Eric Olsen and his band the Earganic. Here we get to view the brilliant Shame Acker original animated short ‘9’ [2005] and as a bonus you can either view it with the very informative audio commentary by Shane Acker [Writer/Director/Animator] and Joe Ksander [Animation Director] or you can also view it without the audio commentary, but I chose to view it with the first option, as it was really good to hear the very informative audio commentary and is also good to hear the views of the two people explaining the whole concept of this totally brilliant animated short and of course eventually ‘9’ went onto an even more spectacular full length animated film. Finally, it garnered loads of Awards, which included Student Academy Award: Gold Award for Animation. SIGGRAPH: Best in Show. Animex: First Prize, 3D Character Animation. Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation College Awards: First Prize, Non-traditional Animation. Florida Film Festival, Newport Beach Film Festival: Best Animated Short.

Special Feature: My Scenes: The “My Scenes” feature is only available while the animated film is playing.

Special Feature: U-Control Picture-in-Picture Experience: This picture-in-picture track is one of the better Universal U-Controls Experiences out there. There's a wealth of information about the film, cast, and crew here. Interviews with the cast and crew pop up on a regular basis to offer educational and enlightening titbits about the film.

Special Feature: How To: View these user guides to get the most out of your Blu-ray experience.

Special Feature: What’s New: Check out the latest trailers, exclusive content and more!

Special Feature: pocket BLU App: Experience this Blu-ray in an exciting new way the App for iPhone or iPod touch, anywhere, anytime.

Special Feature: BD-Live: Basic BD-Live functionality and the Bookmarking feature are present through your internet connection Blu-ray player and be able to download even more bonus content, also the latest trailers and more.

Finally, this ‘9’ animated feature film is a stunning piece of creativity that will shock the eye. Its images are so intricate that they spring to life automatically. I really loved this animated film and the spectacular audio and image presentation really helped solidify this as a highly recommended title that can, for the most part, it can be used as an audio demonstration material from your home theatre setup. It's hard not to go into Shane Acker's ‘9’ with a lot of enthusiasm, especially when two very creative minds Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov headline the production crew. ‘9’ animated feature film is a totally beautiful intelligent artistic piece, that has been very well thought out as a thrilling tour de force adventure, and it is a very satisfying experience. Very Highly Recommended!

Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Aficionado 
Le Cinema Paradiso 
United Kingdom

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