What do Knowing and $9.99 have in common?
$9.99 is well-directed and well-written. Like last year's Waltz with Bashir it uses animation to market an otherwise ordinary story (like Waltz with Bashir it also claims Israeli financing; good to see the US tax dollar put to work beyond bailing out billionaires). And, as true in Waltz with Bashir, animation ultimately handicaps and stunts the impact of the film.
It's a story about humans. A story about humans, yet the production techinique is de-humanizing and alienating. The fact that we're looking at puppets, fingerprinty foam latex puppets is foremost in every frame. The story demands emotional performance, sympathy which the technique simply cannot provide.
There's one emotional connection, it occurs with the inanimate piggy bank. Significant, I believe, of the strength of the writing and the failure of the technique.
In Knowing, a cypher predicts the future. We 'know' what's going to happen, it's carried out, and yet it's still surprising. In fact, the execution of the prophecies is more surprising to a contemporary film audience that their aversion. More than surprising, the special effects wizardry of the climax is downright fulfilling.
From the onset of the parallel narratives, there is an even greater feeling of inevitablity in $9.99. We 'know' all of these people will have instances of intersection which lead to a moment of grand redemption. The film sets this up 75 minutes but the grand moment -despite mighty straining from the soundtrack -doesn't payoff the long build.
The director, Tatia Rosenthal, said she worked with this technique because it was what she knew best and what was comfortable. That may have made it easier for her over the two years of production, but it was a disservice to the film. $9.99 is 'good' for animation, and those of us who feel the techniques of animation go beyond Broadway musicals for children -just as Waltz with Bashir created a stir. It is also a good signpost of what the technique's strong points are, and what happens when you remove the human connection from a human story.