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October 15, 2008
FILM REVIEW: City of
Ember Will Burn Brightly With Kids
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,
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
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
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
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.
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.
out of four
© 2008 North Star Writers
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