Two Nines Clash at Comic-Con

Inside Tim Burton's computer-animated "9" and Peter Jackson's political sci-fi film "District 9"

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Two very different movies with very similar titles were previewed to the Hall H audience at Comic-Con on Friday afternoon. 9 — which is, of course, opening on 9/9/09 — is a computer-animated movie directed by Shane Acker (who also made the 2005 short film it's based on), and co-produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov. All three of them came to the panel, along with two of its voice actors: Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly.

The footage shown at the panel (the trailer and a fight scene) laid out the basic concept of the movie: 9 is a rag-doll sort of robot creature with eyes like camera lenses, constructed by one of the last human beings before some kind of great catastrophe involving a war between people and machines. Along with his numbered siblings, all of them in some disrepair, he's trying to figure out what exactly happened and survive in the threatening, ramshackle mechanical landscape the world has become.

(Click here for photos of New Moon, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Avatar and more at Comic-Con 2009.)

It all seems like fairly straightforward "hero's journey" stuff; a couple of times during the panel, it was noted that Wood's role as 9 is not terribly far from his role as Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. But the point of 9 is more about its look. It's easy to see why Burton was drawn to its rich, run-down visual design: Acker mentioned that he liked a description he'd read of the movie's style as "stitchpunk — what happens after the retrofuturistic world fell apart."

A few hours later, producer Peter Jackson, writer/director Neill Blomkamp, and star Sharlto Copley introduced scenes from their new movie District 9 — a relatively low-budget ($30 million) science-fiction movie with a serrated political edge to it, and also an expanded version of a short film (Blomcamp and Copley's Alive in Joburg). It's appropriate that they previewed it in San Diego: the promotional campaign for the movie began in earnest at last year's Comic-Con, with "humans only" signs posted in the San Diego convention center. (It's also the movie Blomcamp and Jackson ended up making when their plans for a Halo film ran aground a few years ago, they explained.)

District 9, filmed in a verité/documentary style, concerns what happens when aliens from outer space land in Johannesburg, South Africa, with no way to get back home, and are forcibly resettled into a slum; Copley's character is a bioengineered alien/human hybrid forced by the government into becoming a weapon against the aliens. In other words, it's a movie about apartheid and involuntary resettlement, and its big-action-flick explosions are tempered with dark, angry humor.

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