City of Ember
City of Ember starts out with all that’s needed to captivate a willing audience. Yet somehow, this doesn’t quite happen. It’s difficult to determine who’s to blame for this sort of failure. Personally, it’s difficult for me to understand what makes a good children’s/family film.As per my tastes Aladdin is the greatest of all time in it’s genre, and I didn’t so much get Toy Story. But what do I know? Unfortunately, Ember falls into that annoying category of children’s films that tries to be all relevant with the times, preaching about taking care of the earth, making sure it exists for future generations (see Happy Feet and WALL-E for more examples).
Lina Mayfleet (played by Saoirse Ronan) is a citizen of the underground city of Ember, built by the ambiguous ‘builders’ many generations ago. She, like all the other people who live there, is becoming increasingly concerned about the rolling blackouts of electricity plaguing the city due to the 200+ year old generator that powers the settlement. She is paired with a young man named Doon (Harry Treadaway), who’s certain he can fix the problems if he’s only given a crack at fixing the generator. The two become convinced that despite the local lore that nothing exists outside of the city besides darkness, that there is indeed something out there and it will solve all of Ember’s problems. The mayor of the city (played by Bill Murray) seeks to stop the two from discovering whatever there is to discover, but they continue their search, endangering themselves the entire way.
Director Gil Kenan created quite the world in this film. It’s an engaging world of shadows, and passageways, filled with exposed pipes, enormous monsters that hide in the dark and threaten the safety of those that live there. The scenery completely envelops the viewer and it’s terrific. The characters are mostly original, and well developed, encouraging sympathy for their plight. The pace left a little something to be desired. It was slow most of the film, and sometimes a little directionless. Until midway through the film, it was unclear where the plot was heading. Were we to focus on the groaning, creaking, and dirt falling from the unseen ceiling? Or were we to concern ourselves with finding an exit, it simply wasn’t clear. Although I haven’t read the book this film is based on, a discussion with Jessica from thebluestockings.com (you can read her review here) revealed that the film added much intricacy to the disappointing end of the YA novel, and be glad of that, it’s towards the end that the film picks up with action, adventure, civil disobedience, and crazy boat rides. Actors Ronan and Treadaway excel, while the adult actors, Bill Murray and Tim Robbins are left onscreen with nothing much to do. All in all, this was an average children’s movie that will serve to spook and entertain those under, say, thirteen years of age.