Director’s first feature fails to deliver

By David Orlikoff

Although film is a concrete form of art, the interpretation of the final product often varies by viewer. While the light and sound of the movie registers similarly in our brains, the constructed meaning we create outside the purest facts of plot is often entirely our own. Film is an active and engaging art form in which the audience creates their own living narrative as they bear witness to the static stimuli on the screen.  The typical result is that two people with similar values and interests can still find themselves diametrically opposed on the merits of a particular movie. This is not the case with director Shane Acker’s animated film simply titled 9.

Interestingly enough, most reactions to Acker’s freshmen feature will fall within the same qualitative scope. While one patron might view an action film as bold entertainment, another could just as easily conclude it sickeningly offensive. 9 universally elicits a sense of both wonder and terrifying danger of the unknown. Still, some patrons of this film are falling victim to another form of personal subjectivism in cinema called delusion.

Acker’s main skill comes from his background in videogame level design. He is adept at constructing interesting worlds which appear infinitely deep. It is these rich, soulful worlds which very rapidly convey the message of bold melancholy to the audience.

Delusion enters into play when viewers stop seeing the film as is. They become nostalgic for something they are failing to see for the first time and by sheer force, will envision the very film they hoped 9 would be.

The biggest heartbreak surrounding the film is that it was based on an award-winning, Oscar nominated short film of the same title and similar content which Acker completed for his thesis in animation at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2004.

At 11 minutes, virtually every detail made painfully overt in the feature is left mysterious in the short.  The plot is action and emotion oriented, standing on its own two feet and not supplying excess strain to the audience.

With less weight to bear, the design of the world, and the trademark “9 feeling”, comes across as evocative and intriguing without being overbearing. Perhaps there is another form of delusion present—the film critic who saw and loved the short only to cry murder at the release of the feature.  It is the same phenomenon as hipsters eschewing their old favorite bands the moment they sign to a major label.

It is, however, tragic to admire an intricate, and at times hopeful and terrifying short only to later lose faith in the director. One gets the sense that the world has already seen the best Shane Acker has to offer—perhaps the only thing he has to offer. It has some of the worst dialogue since The Land Before Time VII: The Stone of Cold Fire.

To quote a favorite character from “The Muppet Show,” my favorite part was when it ended. Watch the short film for free on YouTube.

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