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October 15, 2008

FILM REVIEW: City of Ember Will Burn Brightly With Kids


By Nathaniel Shockey

Based on the award-winning novel by Jeanne Duprau, City of Ember features both the director of Monster House (Gil Kenan) and the talented screenwriter of Edward Scissorhands, The Secret Garden (1993 version), The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride, (Caroline Thompson).


It opens after “the end of the world,” when a group of scientists enclose the truth about an underground city called “Ember” in a box to be opened in 200 years, at which time they hope it will be safe to re-inhabit the surface of the Earth. But 47 years early, someone interrupts the carefully planned passing on of the box from one mayor of Ember to the next.


This whole narrative takes place in about five minutes, when suddenly we’re thrust into the world of Ember – a dank, clustered world, lit by hundreds of light-bulbs, all of them powered by one giant generator.


The plot finally gets moving when a couple of 12-year-olds, Lina and Doon, played by Saiorse Ronan and Harry Treadway, begin to unravel the truth behind their treacherous mayor (played by Bill Murray), Doon’s father (played by Tim Robbins) and the city of Ember itself. Both Ronan and Treadway were good, especially Saiorse Ronan, who is both believable and compelling to watch.


Murray was one of the film’s strong points, providing the most effective comic relief, which always felt necessary when it came. He is hilarious in his smugness, and in such a dark movie meant especially for children, it was appropriate to have a villain who was at least as funny as he was evil.


The first half of the movie dragged, not horribly, but noticeably. I was confused enough about the significance of what I was seeing and how it pertained to the general plot that I was a little bit bored. This was nearly compensated for by interesting visuals, but personally, I like to feel the weight of the plot more than I like to look at interesting things.


It is always better for the first half to drag than the second half, and the second half was quite thrilling. As the pieces began to come together and the children began to realize the somewhat muddled truth of the city, I could feel the collective excitement of all six people in the theatre (you’ve got to love those Tuesday matinees).


Besides Bill Murray, the best thing the movie had going for it was its incredibly imaginative story, which can only be attributed to the author of the novel. I’m sure there was philosophical significance, although I haven’t yet stumbled upon it, and I wouldn’t even be surprised if the movie were actually some allegory designed to subliminally teach kids something completely untrue. But thankfully, I was either not clever enough to figure out any such allegory, or it simply didn’t exist. After all, much like children, I am considerably more concerned that the good guys win and the bad guys lose.


The bad guy – Mayor Cole (Murray) – who had been keeping all the canned food to himself and starving the rest of the city, lost in the worst way, getting eaten by a giant monster with the body of a rat and gross red tentacles coming out of its mouth. From where this creature came is probably not worth trying to guess. But I like to guess such things, and can only figure that the “end of the world” was brought about by nuclear catastrophe, which may have been responsible for horrible monsters that look like giant rats with huge, disgusting tongues.


I would imagine kids would really like this movie, even if it isn’t quite as transparent nor as light as children’s movies often are. And either way, I certainly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who appreciates a unique story that doesn’t take itself too seriously.


Two-and-a-half stars out of four


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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