Shane Acker’s 9 has had an illustrious beginning. The original 11-minute animated short (you can watch it on YouTube) won a 2005 Student Academy Award and was nominated for a competitive Oscar that same year. Now Acker has expanded the short into an animated feature film (Focus Feature’s second such film following CORALINE earlier this year) set to open tomorrow. If the runner and commercials are any indication, its a slick piece of animated film making with an impressive cast, including Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Crispin Glover, and Jennifer Connelly.
In a post-apocalyptic worlds where all humans are gone, all that is left is a community of rag dolls and the machines roaming the planet bent on their destruction. To survive, 9 (Elijah Wood) and the others must come out of hiding, go on the offensive, and discover why the machines want to destroy them. Early reviews have been mixed but the look of the film is intriguing.
Deborah Lurie wrote the score, while Danny Elfman wrote the themes. I’m not sure why Elfman didn’t write the entire score himself, but I’m hoping to schedule an interview with Lurie to get all the details.
Lurie has worked as an orchestrator and composed additional music for many Elfman films–including SPIDER-MAN 2, CHARLOTTE’S WEB, WANTED, and HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY–and easily assimilates herself into the Elfman style. As to be expected, most of the score is geared toward action cues, heavy on drums, col legno strings, shrieking violins that sound like metal filings, and metallic percussion sounds.
Outstanding action cues abound, including “Return of the Machines” and “The Purpose.” My favorite cue is “Winged Beast,” with its repeated rhythmic cells, pulsating syncopation and heart-pounding tension. Two of the three main themes can be heard at the beginning in the brass. Shrieking violins and French horn rips convey terror
But not every cue is action-oriented. Unlike so many scores of this nature, Lurie allows the music to breathe every now and then with quieter cues like “Reunion/Searching for Two” and “Return to the Workshop.” The lighthearted “Twins” would fit right in in any animated film and makes your ears perk up if for no other reason than its unexpected major key. In “Burial,” the third main theme can be heard in the plaintive flute solo.
The chorus is used judiciously. “Sanctuary” and “Release” echo Elfman’s choral sound in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, while the voices tap into their inner Orff in “Slaying the Beast.”
What nearly ruins the CD is the bonus track, the execrable song “Welcome Home” by Coheed and Cambria. Hard metal rock may fit the machinery milieu of the story, but it’s a shock after 40-plus minutes of orchestral score. It’s six minutes and 15 seconds of ear-splitting, headache-inducing, unintelligible garbage.
Otherwise, 9 is immaculately performed and rendered on disc. And without having seen the film, I can easily follow the peaks and valleys of the story through the music. Is there anything new here that we haven’t heard before? Not really. But Lurie and Elfman’s music are so intertwined that it would be difficult for me to say who composed what without looking at a cue sheet. The two have provided an exciting, if not entirely original, score that gets better with each listen.