Virtually all of the ills of mankind have their day of reckoning in Shane Acker’s cautionary tale set after the final apocalypse that leaves only blood-thirsty (perhaps oil is more likely) machines and a handful of little people (burlap-covered mechanical dolls with complex inner workings which are just one zipper away) whose continued existence is very much in doubt.
This horrific calamity was brought on by yet another totalitarian regime having its dream of world domination fulfilled when science produced a thinking contrivance whose uses were meant to be only humanitarian. But, like Frankenstein’s monster, the self-replicating contraptions took one look around them and decided to take on their masters and the rest of the planet.
As the film opens, the acrid dust has settled and 9 (engagingly voiced by Elijah Wood) wakes up in a very scary world, wondering if he might be the only living thing left. (A frequent theme in literature and filmmaking—more frequently it’s a nuclear blast that has cleared the decks, cross-reference below.) Soon he’s wandering the streets in the helpful company of 2 (Martin Landau is perfectly cast) then soon running for their lives from The Beast.
The various monsters that have their turn at catching the little rascals evoke all sorts of images from the world’s not-human villains ranging from Siegfried’s dragon through Tamino’s snakes to a rogue Batman that is intent on devouring his Robin.
Acker’s fantastic story has been crafted into a quick-moving screenplay by Pamela Pettler and painstakingly brought to the screen frame-by-frame thanks to a legion of animation and special effects wizards largely from Starz Animation. The results are a stunning array of imagery fed by unbridled imagination and unending dedication.
The numerous and wonderfully terrifying chase scenes are deftly balanced by the back-story which surrounds mysterious symbols and tracking down the source of their power in order to defeat the wretched mechanical creatures whose long shots wouldn’t be out of place in H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds. After a time, the frequent resonations with so many other well-known stories from the past combine to rob the film of any fresh-feeling in its narrative.
Fortunately, the stellar cast (including Christopher Plummer’s note-perfect rendition of 1—the group’s elder statesman and sometime coward—and Jennifer Connelly’s delightful tone as the de facto superhero of the bunch) collectively combine to define just what the joy of ensemble can be.
The contracted English orchestra (conducted with vigour by Gavin Greenaway who draws especially taut performances from the lower strings and successfully rides the mighty brass into battle) adds a welcome sheen to the spectacular images even as Jenny O’Grady’s Metro Voices lift the score beautifully to the heavens.
By journey’s end, most the wrongs have been righted and there’s a small hope that the new world will be better than the old, but surely the possibility that today’s leaders might send us all over the proverbial abyss can only be the stuff of science fiction. JWR