Saturday, September 19, 2009

Nine is the....something-est....number

Earlier I got to riff off of Briullov's post on the Star Trek movie. Now it’s my turn to go first and Briullov will have the riposte. Le sigh.

Last Thursday Jude, Briullov, and I went to see the new film, Nine. Also known as 9. In some countries also filed under the moniker Девять.

Here’s the thing: this is the movie Shane Acker, one of Peter Jackson’s studio cronies, worked on in his free time. Tim Burton (of previous cartoony-awesomeness film fame such as…I, actually, don’t think I need to list them) and Timur Bekmambetov (best-known to audiences worldwide for Night Watch and Day Watch; probably better known in America for Wanted). I first saw a preview for the film, sitting in L’Artist’s dorm room, between classes. There may have been some Resident Evil or F.E.A.R. demo playing, as well.

My first impression of the film was, of course, that of shock and awe (I like using that phrase specifically because Sony failed to copyright it. Hahahaha!haha. It…needs the exclamation point so you can read the intonation and know that I’m copying Dr. Horrible. [Chop off the head. Of the human race?]
It’s not a…perfect…metaphor.
Nine’s preview had everything to make a Frozen Icarus proud:
1) An as-of-yet ambiguous quest structure (check)
2) post-apocalyptic setting (check)
3) Creepy creepy design (check)
4) possibly ambiguous backstory (I think the voice over said something about how 9 didn’t know why he was created) (check)
Seriously. Awesome stuff! So excited. But then I got bummed out because the release date was, “appropriately,” 9-09-09. Alright, Mr. Movie-sir? Enough with the dates-thing. Every time you do that I think of The Omen, 06-06-06, i.e. 666, i.e. the devil’s number, i.e. the scariest part of your movie was JULIA STILES ACTING.

I digress. It is, however, all for Damien. Perhaps I ought to include a Herman Hesse quote in the literary feature at some time. I’ll see what I can do. Let’s go back to 9, shall we?

Much of the movie matched and/or exceeded my expectations. There are some deliciously surreal-creepy moments: 9 first awakens tied by a string over his head, as if swinging from a poplar tree, and it’s not at first that we realize it’s his hand strung up, not his neck; he exits, stage left, into the post-apocalyptic desert (of a, presumably, German hamlet), and flips his shiz when he peeks inside a car that’s crashed and sees a blonde woman, baby clutched in her lap, dead inside. It’s ok, Frod-I mean 9 (Elijah Woods voice-acts in the non-Russian dubbed version), I freaked out a little bit too.

The visuals continue to astound throughout the movie, and there are some really nice moments. The fight scene “choreography” has an, again, surreal feel to it, because on the one hand the audience is ever-cognizant that it’s watching dolls, even if it’s slipped into the veil of suspending its disbelief – these are dolls that cannot feel pain, that can stitch up punctured hips and dislocated shoulders. On the other hand, the animators went for the realism, and every time the dolls get thrown about (it happens a lot) their necks and limbs shake with whiplash. Gruesome. But awesome.

But – and I’m sorry, Mr. Movie-maker-sir, I tried to keep the nice comments coming for as long as I could – but then there were systematic problems with it. I’m not even going to try to touch the reason why the antagonist’s political ranking had to be “Chancellor,” why the village had to have the feeling of a German hamlet (complete with Gothic cathedral and German Revival Church, just to try to make it match all the more). There are other nationalities capable of violence. I can think of quite a few, in fact, that have proven themselves in the years since World War II...that’s another post entirely.

The major systematic flaw that I see in Nine is a flaw that I see throughout cinema, throughout society. It is – and I’m sorry, I love you all dearly – the same flaw that I see with some of the comments left on this blog, for me to talk less and put up more eye candy.

That a movie – that a post I make – that any text created in this society should make the receptor think, puzzle out what the interlocutor is getting at, is not the problem that it’s made out to be. Last self-reflecting comment on the blog and then I’ll speak in more generalities – there are definitely problems with the interlocutor’s level of speaking in terms that are not awkward, but are, rather, beautiful. Touché on that one. I think Mr. Wer knows what I’m talking about when I reference “speaking awkwardly.”

BUT! But but but. What is up with the Paris-Hiltonification? I know I shouldn’t blame her, she is just the most recent in a long line of avatars…but just because something makes you think doesn’t mean that it is ponderously intellectual, that it is pretentious.

Now, I – and I’m sure all of you can as well – list a couple of films that are surely best listed under “ponderously intellectual” and/or “pretentious.” But they are so few compared to the number of films that are just awesome, and have a message, and don’t point exactly to “THIS IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, GUYS!” I think Darren Aronofsky is one of the masters in this latter category. The Fountain? Mmmm. Gorgeous.

Let’s go back to Nine. For most of the film, I dig it. We have some inkling of what’s happened. The scientist’s opening monologue mentions something about saving the souls of all of those, including his wife and kids, whom he’s lost. There are posters that say “REVOLT! Against the machines,” and a dubious-looking factory in the distance, to which a prowler cat machine drags off one of the nine puppets, and there are dead humans everywhere…so it seems pretty easy to figure out that there was some kind of war between humans and machines, and the dolls have filled in the role of human for the species in absentia.

And then we meet the cast, and it’s beautiful, because they’re all archetypes.
1 is the Hierophant
2 The Adventurer
3&4 The Archivists*
5 For lack of a better word to describe the archetype, The Hufflepuff
6 The Holy Fool
7 The High Priestess
8 The Elephant
9 The Wanderer
*This is another post, again, but I love how modern artistic works are more and more often including idiot-savant type children as the keepers of knowledge, or as the gatekeepers, in general (thinking of Resident Evil). It sets up a beautiful and almost grotesque dichotomy between young body and lisping voice (thank you for that phrase, Frank Herbert) and wisdom that can, from such a physical being, have only other-worldly origin.

But then, ten minutes of the film left, we are subjected to a long exposition of back story better left unsaid, for the viewer to puzzle out, and then, with only three minutes left, a very long-winded, completely unnecessary, completely mood-destroying exposition-voiceover from Mr. Frodo himself, explaining just who every number’s real world referent was.

Briullov seemed less put-off by it than I was. “I just didn’t see it was necessary, I had already figured out that the dolls matched up by that point,” I believe his words were. I am, as that previous sentence implies, off-put by it. I am not a fan.

It says one of two things to me. Either: it was originally written without such exposition, and at some point in the editing process someone said, “No, we need to include it, so people won’t think that we’re being overly pretentious or pseudo-intellectual. They’ll black list our movie.” OR at whatever point it was in the organic writing process that it became part of the screenplay, that agent of change thought, “It’s too ambiguous as it is. We need to help people understand what’s gone on.” This latter is more odious to me, although it is likely the way things went.

There’s an internet joke phenomenon that lists how different authors and various famous people answer the question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Hemingway’s response, per the joke site: “To die. Alone. In the rain.”

I disagree. Hemingway, who had taste, would have realized where to stop. He would have realized not even to ask a question when he knew the answer; he would have stopped at “the truest statement he knew.”

Hemingway: “The chicken crossed the road.”

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