February 17, 2021
(The Channel Awesome logo is shown, followed by the Freakshow Cinema opening. A montage of shots of movies with freaky scenes is shown)
NC (vo): When I started doing "Freakshow Cinema", I had a lot of ideas of what films I wanted to cover. When I asked the audience what they wanted me to talk about, though, a lot of people overwhelmingly said...
(Cut to a shot of the title for...)
NC (vo): ...9, as I had a picture of it (A shot of the movie is superimposed) when I was talking about future possibilities.
NC: (awkwardly) I'll be honest...I kind of put that picture in there as kind of a place holder.
(A montage of scenes from the movie 9 are shown)
NC (vo): I was going to talk about it but it wasn't at the top of the list for me. After so many people recommended it though, I did realize something strange about the movie. It's one of the few films that everyone I asked had a similar reaction to.
NC: They remember it and...don't remember it at the same time.
(A montage of scenes from 9 are shown)
NC (vo): What do I mean by that? Well, I recall seeing the film when it was release in 2009.
(Cut to the film's poster, with the camera zooming in on the release date: "9-9-09")
NC (vo): I even remember how rushed it might have been to make this gimmicky deadline.
(The montage continues)
NC (vo): It has some big-name producers behind it, like Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov, a decent line-up of talented actors, and some rather eye-catching visuals. In fact, the imagery is what stayed with me despite not seeing it for eleven years. I remember these ragdolls with zippers, each having a giant number on their back. I remember it being the apocalypse if ran by Sid's toys. (An image of Babyface Spider from Toy Story is superimposed) I remember this freaky image of one of the dead dolls being being used as a hypnotizing device. And I remember a giant monster rising up to Julie Garland singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow".
NC: Arguably, those are very difficult things to forget, but what's so odd is... I don't remember anything else about it.
NC (vo): I didn't remember what their numbers meant, nor what the characters were like, or what caused the apocalypse. I couldn't even recall how it ended.
NC: What intrigued me was, when I talked to other people about it, they remembered and forgot the exact same things I did.
NC (vo): The dolls with the zippers, some of the monsters, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"...and nothing else.
NC: Online, however, was a very different story.
(A scroll through YouTube showing all the different videos about the movie)
NC (vo): There's several of videos that talk about what the film means and the dozens of ways it can be interpreted.
(Cut back to the movie)
NC (vo): So I became kind of fascinated in this movie people did and didn't remember. Thus, I moved it up on the list. Now, watching it over a decade later, I found that the visuals have become a bit more standard when it comes to modern dark media, the ideas have become much more interesting, and the story and characters...
(Cut to a clip of an episode of The Simpsons)
Carl: (to Homer, awkwardly) You got a beautiful home here. (leaves)
(Cut back to 9 again)
NC (vo): I guess I should start by explaining what the film is even about. Directed by Shane Arcker and based on his short film (A poster of said film is superimposed), 9 begins with a ragdoll waking up and discovering a dead scientist, which goes perfectly with the dead world that surrounds him. He has a 9 on his back so he calls himself "9" and discovers another ragdoll named 2. He gives him a voice box so he can talk, a voice supplied by Elijah Wood, and 2 is voiced by Martin Landau. But robotic monsters attack, capture 2, and 9 hides with other ragdolls who explain that they are all that's left of, well, pretty much life. (slightly sarcastically) Tell me if you have heard this one: machines have taken over the world from mankind... and that (A shot of a business woman taking off her glasses) snobby business woman might have her heart warmed in that Christmas romcom.
NC: Yeah, nothing new, but stick with it.
NC (vo): 9 wants to go rescue 2 from the machines, but the ragdoll's leader, 1, played by Christopher Plummer, says it's best to stay away to preserve their survival. With the help of a more simple doll named 5, played by John C. Reilly, they travel to find a deserter named 7, played by Jennifer Connelly, who hates staying safe and thinks exploring and rebelling is the way to take back control. So, hearing this story, you probably put together there's one of two outcomes: this can either have a lot of potential or be another one of the most boring, overused plots in sci-fi history.
NC: (awkwardly) And again, it's kind of both. (hastily) Let me explain.
NC (vo): You see, it's really hard to stay invested in these characters and what they want. They're not bad or annoying or anything, they're just...very one-note. One note isn't too bad, though, if it can be creatively utilized.
(Cut to a clip of The Nightmare Before Christmas)
NC (vo): I mean, the Nightmare Before Christmas characters aren't exactly the most complex, but you identify with their basic needs: Jack wants to feel challenged and excited, Sally wants to protect the one she loves, the scientist wants to create the perfect companion, you get the idea.
NC: Right at the beginning, though, 9's motivations keep changing around.
NC (vo): First, it's to find someone. He does. Then that someone is taken away. Okay, let's save him. They save him, but he's quickly destroyed. Okay, um, put this device found earlier in this machine... Oh, no, that created a monster! Um... Guess find out what made that monster... Okay, did that. Stop the monster! Oh, no, the friends are captured! Save them, I suppose... You see the issue? That's not to say there aren't clues and bits of foreshadowing that slowly reveal what they are and where they came from, but I don't think even 9 cares that much what he is or where he came from. Half the time, I have to remind myself what he's even after at any given moment.
NC: Also, there's the look of the film. At the time, it was very unique.
NC (vo): Shane Acker did visual effects for (The poster for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is superimposed) some of the biggest epics to ever hit the screen, and for 2009, this is very impressive animation. Also, keep in mind this was one of (The poster for Coraline is superimposed) only two animated films from Focus Features that had this dark look. Since then, there's been a lot more, but the idea of dark children's-ish films was not a common thing. I say "children-ish" because the film has a PG-13 rating, and with all the death in it, it's not entirely unwarranted. But now that we do have (Posters for Monster House and ParaNorman are superimposed) a lot more dark animated movies, the environment may be a little too dirty and ugly to look at. Don't get me wrong, it has its pretty moments, and the designs themselves are very original, but there's only so long you can look at this muddy brown and smoky gray and piss yellow. A film can be dark and still be visually interesting to look at, and these environments start to wear on you after a while. But again, that wouldn't be too big a deal if the characters or story were good enough to distract us from it, and like I said, they're pretty cookie-cutter.
NC: I also discovered I wasn't alone on this.
NC (vo): A lot of critics praised the look of the film, but claimed the story and characters really fell short. Some recommended it anyway, but most agree the main leads were too one-dimensional to get invested in.
NC: (holds up hand) But here's the thing: there is kind of a reason for that.
NC (vo): Okay, in order to talk about this, I have to go into spoilers, which I know I do all the time on this show, but this does have an interesting surprise in the third act, so if you don't want it ruined, go watch the movie and come back to watching this.
NC: I'll even give you a commercial break so you can go watch it.
(And with that, we go to the commercial break. After that, we cut back to NC, who is somewhat surprised)
NC: Oh! I kinda thought that ad would be an hour, twenty minutes long... Pause it and go watch!
NC (vo): Okay, here we go. This is the big reveal in the third act: all the ragdolls are different parts of the scientist's soul. You see, he was the creator of the machines that took over the world. He was on the side of what looked like a fascist-esque regime and was making a machine to think for itself and based it on his own intellect. When the regime decides to use it as a weapon, the machine does its job a little too well and wipes out all of humanity. With the scientist being one of the last, if not the last human alive, he splits up his soul into nine parts, sacrificing his life in the hopes that maybe these fragments of himself can start anew.
NC: Not to sidetrack with another movie, but have you ever seen The Straight Story?
(Footage of The Straight Story is shown)
NC (vo): It's one of the most boring films ever made. Literally, it's just a guy on a riding mower driving for miles to see his dying brother. Yeah, he comes across someone every once in a while, but it's mostly him on this damn thing. But when you get to the end, you realize that was kind of the point. It was supposed to be boring to give you an idea of what this guy went through for the love of his estranged sibling. The rest of the film suddenly changed when you got to this moment.
NC: 9 is very similar.
NC (vo): The characters are very one-note. Well, maybe if you combined all those notes together, you have a complete person. So many of these characters seem like complete opposites: 1 is more defensive and wants to stay in; 7 is more offensive and wants to venture out; 8 is strong, yet does what he's told...maybe a little too much; 6 is tiny, but thinks outside the box...again maybe a little too much; the twins 3 and 4 are very inquisitive and love information, where 5 is simpler and doesn't question much. If you look at all these characters as different parts of a human being, with 9 being at the heart at the center, it does kind of make sense. Whenever there's an argument, it's not un-similar to when a person is debating in his or her mind what to do.
NC: One of the things I noticed a lot more watching it again is all the little details.
NC (vo): Look at 2's outfit here: there's a part of a pair of glasses, a spoon, a tiny candle, screws and some wire. You can tell this means they're scavengers and they just put together whatever they can find. When you look at the robotic creatures, you get the idea the machines took dead wildlife and built smaller machines to hunt down what life is left, which probably would be smaller animals, leading to them locating our ragdoll heroes.
NC: This is a film whose story is told in the details, and the more you think about it, the more interesting they become.
NC (vo): The film ends with the souls of the fallen ragdolls being released into the sky, leaving only 9, 7 and the twins left. At first, I didn't enjoy this because I liked the idea of one person's soul coming together to recreate civilization.
NC: But...then I thought about it more.
NC (vo): There is kind of an Adam-Eve, Cain-and-Abel vibe here, and on top of that, the rain that falls seems to have the essence of the souls that were released, perhaps indicating they will help the world grow in a completely different way. I don't think any of this is direct allegory, but there are a lot of similarities to other Creation stories.
NC: But that does raise the question: does justifying your characters be one note still make them interesting to watch?
NC (vo): I actually thought it would have been more fascinating if the personalities grew other characteristics. We saw a little bit of that with 1's character growing more noble and sacrificing himself at the end. But everyone else mostly stays the same.
NC: Even the machines, the main antagonists of the film, are kind of generic.
NC (vo): Oh, not the animal ones; they're pretty damn cool. God, they're scary! I'm talking about the lead baddies. I mean, look at them. They're every Matrix, SkyNet, War of the Worlds, boring blah! They never talk or have personality, which, again, could be okay if the main characters made up for that.
NC: And even then, I think that problem could have been solved if they just added a little more humor.
NC (vo): Little moments, like 7 swinging in to save the day, missing, and saying...
7: Let me try that again.
NC (vo): Or 9 telling 1 to let go of his cape to save his life, and he says...
1: You owe me a cape.
NC (vo): Those scenes are cute and add a lot of personality. But there's basically no humor throughout the rest of this, and a lot of these characters are so wide-eyed and curious that there could have been a lot of great comedy to endear us to them more. For all the opportunities they take up in the idea department, they don't take up nearly as much in the entertaining department.
(Cut to a shot of Terminator 2: Judgment Day)
NC (vo): Something like Terminator 2 doesn't have nearly as complex ideas, but they do have likeable characters.
(Cut back to 9)
NC (vo): If we could somehow combine (The poster for Terminator 2 is superimposed) this film's personality with (The characters from 9 are shown again) this film's concepts, I really think we could have had a great emotional work of art.
NC: So, is 9 a good movie? I think it depends on how you see it and when you see it.
NC (vo): I remember not getting into the idea, so I paid more attention to the visuals. Now it's switched: I love the idea, and the visuals are a little bit more standard. Instead of loving the big picture, I get into the details. Rather than enjoying the cast, I like the one character they add up to. The narrative is not the most gripping, but what it amounts to has endless possibilities. Even though I don't love movies like this, I have a deep respect for them, because even though they stay the same, our perception of them changes. As we grow older and become different people, the exact same movie can look totally different, and I'm really glad I came back to this film to analyze the deeper meanings it could have.
NC: Do I think it works as a whole? No. But what does work, I am glad I saw.
NC (vo): I can easily see why there's so many film theories about this flick, as it leaves it open to different interpretations. Is it as complex and abstract as, say, Eraserhead or 2001? Mmm, I don't think I can go that far. But I'd compare it to something like Matrix or Dark City, films that can get the ball rolling for young minds to start questioning reality and how film represents it. Whether the movie is aware of how many ideas it did or didn't have, I'm not sure, but it's left vague enough for people to read deeper into it than perhaps we gave it credit for when it first came out. So whether you find it a masterpiece, boring as hell, or something in between, go ahead and let me know what this film meant to you, if you have any theories about it, and what you think the future holds for its legacy.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. (He gets up and leaves)
(The Channel Awesome logo is shown before the credits roll)