Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: 9 (Animated Film)

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Kevin EK, Jan 3, 2010.

  1. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer

    May 9, 2003
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    Studio: Universal
    Film Year: 2009
    Film Length: 1 hour 20 mins
    Genre: Animated Future Adventure
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    BD Resolution: 1080p
    BD Video Codec: VC-1 (@ an average 30 mbps, and sometimes near 40 mbps)
    Color/B&W: Color
    English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.5 mbps, going up over 5 mbps in the big scenes)
    French DTS 5.1
    Spanish DTS 5.1
    Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
    Film Rating: PG-13 (Violence and Scary Images – NOT FOR CHILDREN)
    Release Date: December 29, 2009
    With the Voices of: Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Crispin Glover, Martin Landau and Fred Tatasciore
    Story and Direction by: Shane Acker
    Based on the short film by Shane Acker
    Film Rating:    3/5  
    9 is a curious movie to review. It’s a unique story, told in an almost sentimental manner at times, and in a shockingly graphic manner at others. The idea is that in an alternate version of our world, a man vs machines holocaust has occurred (along the lines of The Matrix or The Terminator) and the only intelligent life to be found is a small group of rag doll constructions, each with its own hand-painted number on the back. At the beginning of the film, we meet the ninth and final member of this group as he awakens into the world, and through his experiences, we meet the rest of the group and the problems they face. In an abstract sense, the film is about the struggle between simple humanity and mechanical oppression – the danger of literally losing one’s soul to the machine. In a more concrete sense, the film follows the rag dolls as they are menaced by increasingly vicious giant machines.   These confrontations, along with some vivid flashbacks to the machine war of the past, are both intense and unnerving – so much so that I cannot recommend this film as appropriate for children. (I believe teenagers will be okay to watch this, but anyone younger may not have such a good time. This is one time that I think the MPAA rating is spot on.) In other parts of the film, there is a wonderful sense of whimsy – such as a late interlude where the rag dolls listen to a vintage record of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” The whole enterprise is animated with great care, and with a great sense of depth. And yet I have to admit that the story probably still works better as the UCLA short film that director Shane Acker originally made before expanding it to this feature-length version. It’s not a bad story, or a bad movie – but it just doesn’t have enough material to really fill over an hour of screen time. 
    9  has been released this week both on standard DVD and Blu-ray. The Blu-ray release contains a high definition transfer of the movie along with a generous helping of extras, including the original short that started everything.
    9  is presented in a 1080p VC-1 1.85:1 transfer that reveals a lot of detail and depth in the computer animation work done for the film. The overall palette is fairly and appropriately dark, with some intense reds and greens on display, and a generally amber look to the daylight scenes.  I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.
    9 is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, along with standard DTS 5.1 mixes in French and Spanish.   The mix shows off a satisfying amount of directionality, with objects rolling off screen to the right or left both in the visual and aural fields. The subwoofer is a lot more active than you might initially think, as it punctuates all the major sequences. The actors’ voices are clear and easy to understand, although I must confess that I didn’t realize I was hearing Martin Landau until late in the game. The surround channels are certainly activated to a much greater extent than I would have expected from an animated film, which definitely lends a sense of realism to many of the scenes here.
    SPECIAL FEATURES      3 ½/5
    The Blu-Ray presentation of 9 comes loaded with special features, including a commentary, PIP functionality, 5 deleted scenes, about 40 minutes of featurettes, and the original short film, with its own commentary to boot. The disc also comes with D-Box and My Scenes functionality, as well as the new pocket Blu function that connects to an iPhone or iPod Touch.   
    Feature Commentary with Shane Acker, Joe Ksander, Ryan O’Loughlin and Nick Conway – This scene-specific group commentary finds everyone in a pretty chatty mood, discussing in detail how the movie was put together. There is some simple description of what we’re already seeing, but it is then given context as to why things were done in this way. It’s actually more instructive to listen to this track after watching the original short film and hearing THAT commentary first, but you can do it the other way as well.
    U Control PIP Materials – Many chapters in the movie have PIP featurette materials that either address the specific scene in question, or discuss the sets and characters on display.   In some areas, the original storyboard sketches are displayed alongside the completed scene. You can control the volume of the PIP materials vs the feature film through the Setup menu.
    Deleted Scenes (480p, Non-Anamorphic, Total 7:24) – Five uncompleted scenes are shown here in sketch form, accompanied by the actors’ voices. Much like a live-action film, the beats shown here are largely unnecessary repetitions of what we have already seen in the completed film.
    9 – The Long and Short of It (1080i, 16:28) – This featurette traces the movie from its origins as a short film to the work everyone did to expand it to 80 minutes. The usual mutual congratulations are in order here between the cast and director/creator Shane Acker, but the discussion is heartfelt. 
    On Tour With Shane Acker (1080i, 5:36) – This short featurette has Shane Acker walking the viewer through the animation departments at Starz which did the heavy lifting to make his vision happen. There’s actually a lot of information here, broken into bite-sized chunks to discuss how each department contributes to the greater whole.
    The Look of 9 (1080i, 13:12) – This is a more in-depth discussion of the specific design of the movie, including the palette, and the ways the movie conveys time and place. Some of this material reflects back to the feature commentary (without repeating anything) in terms of thinking about how a roller skate can be used as a full-sized wagon by one of the rag dolls; or how another rag doll wears the blade of a skillsaw around his neck as a kind of armor.
    Acting Out (1080i, 4:54) – This featurette covers the performances generated for the animated characters. In some cases, the actual tapes of the actors at the microphone are used. In other cases, the animators themselves act out the scenes. (I should note that throughout the featurettes, the only two actors who do not participate are John C. Reilly and Christopher Plummer. Plummer is actually seen in this featurette, in terms of how his hand motions are translated to his character.  But Reilly isn’t even seen there. The one shot that could have seen him is carefully framed to only see Elijah Wood.)
    9 – The Original Short (480p, Non-Anamorphic, 10:33) – Shane Acker’s original UCLA short film is included here in standard definition. It actually plays as a more concise and efficient telling of the same story, albeit without any voices. (The original short has music and sound effects, but the characters do not speak in anything other than pantomimed gesture.) As an added bonus, a scene-specific commentary with Shane Acker and Joe Ksander is included as an option. I recommend watching the film once without the commentary, and then adding the guys in, as they discuss the various differences between the completed feature and the original short. One bit of their comments threw me for a second – they discuss the influence of the work of Ray Harryhausen, which is valid. But rather than discuss The Golden Voyage of Sinbad or any of the other classic era Harryhausen films, they reference Clash of the Titans!
    BD-Live - The more general BD-Live screen is accessible via the menu, which makes various online materials available, including tickers, trailers and special events. There is a How-To menu to help with this as well.
    D-Box – This Blu-ray is enabled with D-Box Motion for viewers who have this capability in their home theater.
    My Scenes - The usual bookmarking feature is included here.
    pocket BLU – This feature is designed to provide bonus material for use with an iPhone or iPod Touch. As I have neither of these items, I will not be able to test this for myself. If any viewers have been trying out this function, please post within this thread.
    I also note that the film is fully chaptered, and subtitled in English, French and Spanish. When you first put the Blu-ray in your player, you will either go directly to the main menu, or you’ll see some previews. I tried this three times with different results. On the first and third times, I went right to the menu. On the second time, I saw a Holiday Greeting screen, an HD preview for NBC’s Olympics Coverage, an HD preview for Coraline, and then the current Universal Blu-ray Trailer. The main menu screen includes a scrolling product ticker that you can switch on and off.
    IN THE END...
    9 is an interesting animated adventure that definitely has its moments, and this Blu-ray release gives it a really attractive package. The movie itself doesn’t equal the sum of its parts, but there are some really nice parts here, and it’s nice to see some attention going into the making of the disc. I particularly appreciate the inclusion of the original short with its own commentary, and for that alone, I can recommend this as a rental to interested viewers.
    Kevin Koster
    January 3, 2010.

  2. Adam Gregorich


    Nov 20, 1999
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    The Other Washington
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    Thanks for that warning and the review. Sometimes I neglect my parental duties of double checking a film before I clear it. It sounds like and interesting movie and while I will steer it clear of the kids I will still be checking it out for myself!
  3. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer

    Nov 15, 2001
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    Neil Middlemiss
    Kevin - I reviewed the SD version (our reviews were posted within hours of each other) and I find some striking similarities in how we saw the film - right down to the discussion of this film's appropriateness for children (I recommended parents review first, but found the central themes of courage and friendship to be solid for kids). Thanks for the review. It was an strange film to review from the standpoint of who the audience was intended to be, but I find myself appreciating this film the more I reflect upon it.
  4. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer

    May 9, 2003
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    I agree Neil, in that the movie gets better the more I think about it and understand it.

    We're pretty much on the same page about whether children should see it. I agree that there are great themes there - I just was having problems with the violence in the film, and the specific nature of that violence. With Coraline, I was okay with kids seeing it, since the situation there was a fairy tale (what with the button eyes and the "Other Mother") and any sense of danger was offset by the resolution wherein everyone is restored to normal. With 9, I was very concerned that there was violence in terms of machine guns shooting at people, and in terms of how the machines would essentially kill characters, who were then effectively dead. It felt to me that the violence was less fantastical and more real, and thus scarier.

    Something tells me that the biggest potential audience for this film would likely be adults who are interested in this kind of animated adventure. I think it's too intense for small children, but I'm not sure how teenagers would react to it. Some teenagers will go for it, but I think it will likely have a bigger appeal for slightly older viewers - the same ones who really liked the original short.

    We'll have to see how it does in this release. And I'm curious to see how Shane Acker follows this up.
  5. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?

    Dec 1, 1999
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    Disney World and Universal Florida
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    Tony D.
    The rental store were I work put this out into the the kids and family section and I had to let my manager know this wasn't really meant for kids.
    It would have been fun explaining to parents why their kids picked this from our kids section.
  6. Todd smith

    Todd smith Supporting Actor

    Apr 2, 2002
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    Watched this last night and enjoyed the film.

    I thought the audio was up there with the best animated films I have listened to overall. Amazing use of the LFE was not just insanely powerful when called for, but also subtle when needed and all the dif tones and volumes just showed how much thought went into it instead of just using that common one note bass. This and Kung Fu Panda must be the best examples of how to use the LFE channel on animated films......very impressive!
  7. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator

    Mar 4, 2001
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    One Loudoun, Ashburn, VA
    Real Name:
    David Fischer
    I was disappointed by 9 when I saw it this summer in the theater. (And in contrast with Kevin, the more I thought about it, the less sense the movie made.) But the making-of features and commentary on original short sound interesting. I might rent this sometime for the supplements.

    Oh, and what is D-Box Motion?
  8. Edwin-S

    Edwin-S Producer

    Aug 20, 2000
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    Check out the video at the link below. It explains exactly what it is and the components required. Basically it is a motion controlled chair or chairs that follow a motion script embedded on Blu-ray discs, movies, and games.

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