9 Blu-ray Review
9 is brought to Blu-ray via VC-1, and its 1.85:1 image is simply beautiful to look at.
This is very nearly another reference quality disc to proudly show off to all and sundry. It has a massive amount of detail and a real wealth of colour and texture. Early portions of the film have diffused lighting - shafts of illumination streaming through windows or gaping holes in walls - and this is well reflected by a transfer that luxuriates in marvellous contrast levels, tremendously deep blacks (just look at 9 entering into the hole in the metal cannister near the start as 2 is being attacked) and great shadow definition. The skies often have a pastel smothering of pink and yellow and orange, blended marvellously as the sun sets. The various shades of the dolls, themselves, provide plenty of subtle variations. The furious red eye of the Beast, and of his monstrous minions, is brilliantly held in opposition to the glowing green of the living essence that each doll contains and this latter, especially, seems literally phosphorescent at times, yet never once smears or distorts no matter how brightly it may fizz. The full spectrum is well depicted and those who think that the film will be as visually dark as it is thematically will be in for a surprise. 9 is splendidly provocative in every shade, even supplying some wondrously vibrant conflagrations. But I have to confess that I loved the midnight blues that the big library offers in abundance, as they are so atmospheric and fabulously saturated. This is really brought to the fore when you see the burning ruins of the church by comparison and the glowing embers that drift past the more sombre and spooky blues. If we are honest, there is some very slight banding taking place in the thicker swathes of hue - a typical bugbear of animated films that don't hail from Pixar's stable - but this should not trouble anyone who isn't actually looking for it in the first place.
The detail in everything we see is often astounding. All of the characters and the Beastly hardware, as well as the landscapes and the buildings, are acutely depicted and very highly defined with maximum attention paid to texture and the finite elements such as tiny stones and dust, stitching, material and rust and the dents and scratches on metal. Just let your eyes rove about the image and you will find acres of sharply rendered detail itching to be examined. Even distant objects that are flung out at the periphery of our POV are stunningly presented. Really, it would be pointless to list the rewards that this area of high-definition splendour offers because I would just run out of gushing adjectives to describe it. 9 is scintillating rich in detail - that'll do.
And there is a fine level of depth afforded. Some of the action sequences are tremendously cinematic - the swinging heroics in the Beast's lair and atop the church, the wild pursuit across the rickety bridge - and these are lent a great deal of distinct three-dimensionality that really helps to bring the image to life. Views down the debris-strewn streets and even the close-ups of the characters stood illuminated by the glowing staff have a convincing sense of vividness that is fascinating. Even the burlap folks' eyes, set deep within those metal goggle-rims, have a genuine depth, so finely reproduced is the gorgeous animation.
As has been reported elsewhere, there is a small element of aliasing, found predominantly around the metal of the Beast, itself, but I would say that this is slight and un-distracting. But edge enhancement is nowhere to be seen and there is no trace of artifacting or any loss of detail within the darker elements of the image, either. All of which adds up to a very fine video transfer that should impress everyone who sees it.
If I could issue half-marks, I would probably be tempted to award it 9 ½ of 10 ... but, since I can't, its Blu-ray transfer lives up to the film's title and gains an official 9 out of 10.
Harnessed with a boisterous DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track, Universal's transfer of 9 is a showcase presentation of blisteringly sharp clanking metal, devastating low-end pummelling and both exquisitely rendered dynamics and smooth subtleties. In short, this is awesome for lovers of bombast.
The metallic impacts are all impeccably rendered, from the massive rumbling clanks and clashes of the big stuff pounding into action to the minute clicks and whirrings of the more intricate mechanisms. Just for one great example of how the smaller elements attain a superb clarity, just listen to when 9 smacks 2 on the head right near the start, without realising that he is a friend - pin-sharp and brilliantly crystalline and resonant. This is part and parcel of a soundtrack that has masterfully put together and delivers activity all around you in a very successful bid to immerse you completely in the post-apocalyptic world.
Bass levels are wonderful, really wonderful. For a long time this area seemed to be the most subdued when it came to animated movies, since it appeared that they had one ear cocked towards the more neighbour-friendly family market, but now we are getting some great sub-workouts coming along that rock the house as much the latest bullet-blasting explode-athon. And 9 provides some crackingly strong foundation-rattling vigour that is sure to please. Every appearance of the Beast is bone-shuddering and the battle scenes are punishing. The gunfire of the war-machines that we witness in the flashbacks is terrific and the stomping of their feet as they plough their way towards us delivers a fine pressure-wave. The flickering beams of light that hypnotise the hapless during the middle-section are accompanied by a smart rapid staccato, and the roaring of the Beast is thrilling. The scratchy vinyl rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is also evocatively produced.
The rear speakers are brought into play often and with some fine effects carriage and ambience, really helping to place you in the heart of the action. Steerage around the speakers is particularly lively and convincing, with lots of directional panning, and whiparound action seamlessly delivered around you. The more subtle elements, such as the dislodging of stones, that come skittering across the speakers, or the frantic sketching of nightmare visions, is also vividly and realistically reproduced. The score from Deborah Lurie is also full of detail and richly conveyed around the set-up. But the one thing that still bugs me about the film is the lack of weight and presence afforded the dialogue. Now, since this was something that I noticed at the flicks as well, I am inclined to believe that slight dialling-down within the mix of the voices is purely intentional. Acker and Tim Burton even remark in the extras that they wanted the film to come across more like something from the old silent era, so I suppose that this is what they had in mind. Let me stress, however, that there is never an instance when the dialogue cannot be heard or understood, and this may, in fact, just be something that seems apparent to me. Certainly nobody else I know who has watched this release has commented on it.
So, all things considered, this is a fantastic lossless track that packs a punch is offers a full-speaker workout. Once again, I'm tempted to award a 9 ½ out of 10, but, rules being rules, we'll just have to settle for another highly appropriate 9.
Universal stock 9 with some fine extras capped-off with a wonderful PiP track that offers a surprising amount of behind-the-scenes gubbins, from interviews with the cast and crew and storyboards, conceptual artwork and a fair amount of animated pre-viz material running alongside the corresponding sequence in the finished film to some great footage of the vocal recording sessions. Lots of elements of the production are covered and the U-Control function is both seamless and comprehensive, with barely any let-up in its flow. Certainly one of the best PiP tracks out there.
The commentary track with Shane Acker, his animation director, head of story and his editor is also excellent stuff. Frank and immensely personable, Acker is enthusiastic without being egocentric. He talks us through the whole process of evolving his pet project into the film that we see today and proves to be very entertaining about the whole creative business without being dry, repetitive or boring in any way. They all discuss the animation process and the characters, the setting and the story with evident affection and this love comes across well, encouraging you to look at the film and its narrative again with fresh eyes. With lots of insight into the world that they created and a genuine sense of pride in what they have achieved, you can't help but warm to them. This is a fact-packed and entertaining track that is well worth your time.
We get a more traditional making-of next in 9 - The Long And The Short Of It (16.28). This is where we hear about the schooling techniques that Acker underwent and how he learnt through trial and error to bring his original concept of 9 to the screen over several long years of toil. With the participation of the cast and crew, including Tim Burton, Timur Bekmambetov, Pamela Pettler, Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly and many others, we discover how that debut vision then grew and evolved into its feature-length counterpart. All were inspired by the screenplay, apparently, and Acker encouraged his voice performers to simply use their own voices and not create a “vocal character” for their roles. Clips from the short soon develop into clips from its full-length offspring, but we also get to see some more of that gorgeous conceptual art, as well as sit-in on some story meetings from 2006, meet the cast and hear them in the recording suite. Wow - look at Crispin Glover! When did he begin to look like Aragorn? Burton makes the pertinent observation that Shane Acker is very down to earth and agreeable to working with a team - something that he, himself, knows is often a very difficult thing to do after having spent several years cooped-up in room, virtually alone and working non-stop on a devoted project. But Acker, sporting a variety of hairstyles throughout this surprisingly informative piece, proves to be truly amicable and keen to have ideas thrown at him from every quarter. Another fine extra.
We get a selection of five Deleted Scenes that are presented in storyboard, pre-viz or even rough sketch format but, barring the last offering which only has score laid over the top of it, all have full dialogue and effects. These are actually very good, and some offer a lot more characterisation and depth ... as well as some more action.
On Tour With Shane Acker (5.36 mins) is precisely that. The amiable director simply walks us through the studios of Starz Animation and introduces to several animators and technicians. Fast, smooth and very PR.
Next up is The Look Of 9 (13.12 mins) which brings back a lot of familiar faces from elsewhere in this selection of extras as they discuss the highly stylised appearance and setting of the movie and its apocalyptic milieu. We learn of the design ethic that was required and the alternate history angle that allowed them to bring in warped European architecture as well as First World War imagery to help create a weird new SF mythology. “It's a world of death” explains the Head of Story, Ryan O'Laughlin, as they reveal the secrets behind the grunge and the appeal of the Industrial Revolution.
Acting Out (4.54 mins) is mainly concerned with how the animators physically created the actions of the characters they were giving life to, how they found the right expressions from the faces of the voice cast as they read their lines, and how they utilised props of their own to perfect even the most minute of movements that would seen on-screen, as well as even copying their own faces from desk-top mirrors.
And, of course, the package wouldn't be complete with the inclusion of the original Oscar-nominated short version of 9 that kick-started the whole thing. Lasting for only 10 minutes, this is, nevertheless, enthralling stuff and it easy to see how the likes of Tim Burton fast became smitten with it. Together with animator Joe Ksander, Shane Acker supplies a very detailed optional commentary track that is, once again, well worth listening to.
This disc is also BD-Live and D-Box Motion enabled. So, there's a lot of added value to found here, folks. A top job as well as a top presentation.
9 is a definite grower. At first, it feels slight and unsatisfying, bowing-out a little too early and leaving you with only a tantalising glimpse of something far richer just itching to be explored. But its magic lies in this compacted, condensed and evocative style. It may be a fable born out of industrial Armageddon, but it is not meant to carry any overt message or symbolism other than the most cherished one of fighting the good fight against tyranny, and the mysteries that it leaves unsolved only add some colourful textures to such a skewed yet highly focussed vision. What surprises and pleases the most is the film's refusal to compromise. It may be animated and feature some cute sack-cloth rag-dolls, but there is a galvanising sense of jeopardy and violence that is rewardingly intense.
Shane Acker was certainly right to expand upon his critically acclaimed short and the young filmmaker is definitely a talent to watch out for, although he needs to think his stories through with a little more thematic structure and allow a little more space for his characters to breathe.
The AV quality that this Universal disc presents is thoroughly excellent. Visually, it is remarkable, with only some very, very slight issues that almost certainly won't bother anyone too much. And audio-wise, this is tremendous, boasting all-round, fully immersive activity and some pounding sub-action that goes down a treat. The extras are great, too, making 9 a very high quality package overall. It may not quite hit the mark upon first viewing, but this is a film that definitely gains strength with time and is well worth sticking with.
Woven warriors battling against a maniacal metal monster in a post-apocalyptic world - what's not to love?
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.79
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