City of Ember (DVD, 2009, Checkpoint; Sensormatic; Widescreen) Reviews
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City of Ember (DVD, 2009, Checkpoint; Sensormatic; Widescreen)

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Discover the Secret Before It's Lights Out. CITY OF EMBER

Dec 16, 2009
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Neat concept, action and pacing, Treadway, Ronan and Landau.

Cons:Bill Murray was playing Bill Murray.  Several plot holes.

The Bottom Line: A very clever adventure aimed at young teens, but enjoyable for the whole family.


City of Ember (2008) Directed by Gil Kenan

"Pay attention, pay attention to everything, everything you see. Notice what no one else notice, and you'll see what no one else knows. What you get is what you get, what you do with what you get, that's more the point."  Loris Harrow

In the face of looming disaster, a civilization decided to create an ark of life deep underground.  There, in a cavern stands Ember, the last City.  It is planned for two hundred years, and it is carefully stocked, and the exit strategy is carefully laid out, and locked away in a case that will only open in two hundred years.  In the way of such things, it went missing.  And in the way of everything, the City of Ember grew old, and as resources were used up, they could not be replaced.  A perfect example of this is there were phones as little as 16 years ago.  Now, everyone has to rely on messengers, identified by their red capes.

Part of their problem might be how they decide your job for life; instead of carefully assessing each child, measuring aptitude and strengths, on assignment day (graduation) you draw your profession out of a hat.  No, seriously.

It is assignment day for two such young people, Doon Harrow (Harry Treadway) and Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan).  Doon desperately wants to be chosen to work on the generator so he can help save the world.  He draws messenger.  Lina draws pipe works, a job she is hardly suited for.  But Doon wants to trade, and Lina is ecstatic; messenger is her dream job...she likes running and talking.

Doon is concerned about the state of Ember and how much longer she will hold together.  Five minutes in the pipe works seals every fear he has ever had.  Ember is dying.  Food is running out.  There are no more materials.  Its patches and spackle over patches and spackle and rust.
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And he is right to be concerned.  Even the mayor (Bill Murray) can see the handwriting on the wall, and he is making plans of his own.

Remember the case with the instructions on how to evacuate Ember back to the surface?  Well, they made it fool proof, but they did not make it child proof, and Poppy, Lina's little sister, (Amy and Catherine Quinn) eats about a third of the instruction sheet.

Armed with the fragments and Doon's technical mind, and Lina's literary one, they set out to find the way from Ember to the surface.  Will they find it in time?

This is obviously a Young Adults book made into a movie.  It is intriguing, colourful, and moves at a rapid pace, so rapid you whisk by the plot holes.  It has corrupt politicians, bullies, and giant killer moles.  Still, it has a certain charm, and an air that is familiar.  It is the bastard lovechild of Journey to the Center of the Earth, Waterworld, and Dark City.

The aesthetics are good, worn down post apocalyptic wear, Ember looks like the Dark City's younger more innocent sister, with a pervasive air of making do.  It also manages to build a sense of urgency, with frequent blackouts of ever increasing length.  And it gives the kids a puzzle to solve, one that the audience has enough clues about to anticipate the solution, which always leaves one feeling like a genius, like the episode of Star Trek the Next Generation where the aliens only spoke in literary allusion.

There are some fine performances, Martin Landau as Doon's supervisor, Sul.  A work worn man not interested in anything that is not his job.  Doon's dad, Loris (Tim Robbins) a Goldbergian inventor long broken by the restrictions of Ember.  But the movie hangs on three performances; Doon, Lina, and the Mayor.

Bill Murray loves to play the incompetent shyster out for himself, a glad hander who comes away with your watch.  The problem here is he over plays it.  From the bulging gut that won't stay in his vest, to his smarmy contempt for the people he serves, he just takes it over the top.  I find it not at all surprising that the mayor hordes pineapple; it goes so well with ham.

But the kids do a better job.  Harry Treadway as the very serious Doon, desperate to save his city, taking all the weight of the world on his very young shoulders, and the charming Saoirse Ronan as Nancy Dre...I mean Lina Mayfleet.  I think there probably should have been a little more development of the relationship between them, just a smidge more romance, but otherwise, these two kids were the bright spots in the eternal darkness of Ember.

I suspect a good deal of material that actually explained key points ended up on the cutting room floor, but on the whole, the movie succeeds.  It is a clever little movie about growing up, and being more than what is expected of you.  And the movie is aimed at the same audience as the books; younger teens.


Still, the plot is good, the direction solid, the action and pacing quite nice, with a mix of humor and danger.  All in all, a neat little tale.


Recommend this product? Yes


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