City of Ember opened to a pathetic amount when it was released in the fall of 2008, to the point where few people have even heard of it. The movie, about a society that has lived underground for 200 years but is now facing destruction as their generator begins to fail, is a surprisingly entertaining and imaginative picture that will entertain children and adults alike.
The movie stars Harry Treadaway and Atonement's Saoirse Ronan as Doon and Lina respectively, two teenagers who have just started their first jobs in the city of Ember. While the mayor of the city (Bill Murray) seems unconcerned with the recent series of blackouts and earthquakes, Doon and Lina believe that they need to find a way out, despite it being against the law to leave the city. As things become more dire in Ember, the two discover a set of clues that could lead to salvation - but there are those who'd prefer that they fail.
The movie is a fun little adventure film that should satisfy a variety of audiences. The set design is pretty impressive and imaginative; I loved the blend of 1950's architecture with gothic cave technology. The movie itself, directed by Gil Kenan (who also did the surprisingly excellent Monster House), works at a fast clip, never letting down its pace. At the same time, Kenan does a good job of setting the stage before diving right into the action, a wise move that shows restraint as a director. For what is essentially a family adventure film, Kenan and screenwriter Thompson could have easily rushed into things without exploring the dangerous world the characters live in.
City of Ember isn't flawless, however. The screenplay, while not terrible, is the picture's biggest weakness. The dialogue could have used some sharpening in places, and the relationship between the two leads isn't as developed as I would have liked. The reason why they are the only two people considerably concerned with the failing infrastructure of their city is never clear, and I have to wonder what was removed from the original source material.
The ending is also rather weak. The entire climax lacks much suspense, as the characters are basically committed to a conflict-free log ride that somehow gets them to the surface of the planet. It's also never explained how - or if - the rest of the city's inhabitants make it out. Another five minutes at the end to explain this would have been better.
City of Ember is not without its problems, but it is an enjoyable little picture. Had it been given a little more care, it could have been a classic.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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