CITY OF EMBER
**1/2 (out of 5)
October 10, 2008
Tim Robbins as LORIS HARROW
Bill Murray as MAYOR COLE
Saoirse Ronan as LINA MAYFLEET
Martin Landau as SUL
Harry Treadaway as DOON HARROW
Directed by: Gil Kenan
BY KEVIN CARR
As a parent, I have really come to appreciate the modern trend of adapting children’s books into movies. The organization that is on the forefront of this is Walden Media, which often partners with Disney or Fox to make excellent live-action films of famous books.
However, not every one of these movies can be made at the level of the “Narnia” films. Some films, like “Hoot” or “How to Eat Fried Worms,” have been misses for the most part. While “City of Ember” doesn’t fall on the low end with these movies, it’s not at the top with “Narnia” either.
“City of Ember” begins at the end of the world. An unexplained event is happening on the surface, and several leaders have decided to put an entire city underground to protect the human race. The plan was to have the city’s mayor lead the people back to the surface in 200 years. However, a glitch happens that causes the city’s population to forget that it can return to the surface.
The people are now living in a city that has gone more than 40 years past it’s limit underground. They’re running out of food, and the city is falling apart. Two teenagers stumble across the plans to return to the surface, and they try to get out of the City of Ember to find a better life for the population.
Although it is billed as a kid’s movie, I wouldn’t take young children to see “City of Ember.” Stick with “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” this weekend for the tots. “City of Ember” is more appropriate for kids around age ten and above. They will identify more with the teen characters, and they’ll be less prone to boredom in the slower scenes.
“City of Ember” is a fantastic-looking film, though it does have a bit of a claustrophobic feel to it. This is understandable considering the action takes place in a deteriorating city miles below the surface. However, it makes the film a bit more heavy than it really needs to be.
I never read the books that led to this film, but I would imagine that some elements of the story work better on the page than on the screen. The human race isn’t given much credit as many of the inhabitants of the City of Ember seem to have given up on life.
Moreover, the plan that is meant to return humans to the surface is a pretty precarious. For as intelligent as these forefathers were to plan a city below ground, you’d think they’d just build an elevator rather than a Rube Goldberg method of reaching the surface. Too much is left to chance, even at the very end.
The cast works in the film, but there are few standout parts, with the exception of Bill Murray as the fat, corrupt mayor. Martin Landau shows up, as does Tim Robbins, but neither does more than simply phone in their lines.
“City of Ember” is directed by Gil Kenan, who most recently wowed me with “Monster House.” This new movie is a distinctive step down but retains a strong concept. Unfortunately, with a lack of explanation or closure, the movie seems to have too many loose ends to really make it great.