City Of Ember

City Of Ember


Reviewed by: Tony Sullivan

In a disintegrating city, deep underground, the survivors of the human race cling to a seedy existence, with their food and power supply dwindling daily. Their salvation lies in a set of instructions locked away in a time capsule and passed from mayor to mayor over a 200-year period. The snag is, the chain was broken, and the time capsule has become forgotten and lost. Enter two teenagers, Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) and Lina Mayfleet (Ronan Saoirse) who have reached the appropriate age to take their places as contributing members of society.

In a winning conceit, employment in Ember is allocated by lottery. Lina gets to be a Pipeworker and Doon a messenger (a kind of human email) – they promptly switch. Doon dreams of fixing the generator that powers the city but is on its last legs. Lina, it transpires is related to the mayoral line and lurking forgotten in her Grandma's (Liz Smith) closet lurks the all important time capsule.

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Can our heroes figure out the box and its contents before a premature and permanent fade to black?

City Of Ember joins the ranks of the spate of kid-friendly book adaptations that have arrived on our screens in the wake of Harry Potter and they all share similar DNA. Firstly, they must centre on teens who are good kids, I emphasise that they must be Good Kids struggling with weighty issues. No, not acne, not the inability to tear yourself away from the Wii, not parents who won't let you stay out with your friends… in fact a universal trait is that these kids have lost their parents, who gave their lives to some noble, albeit lost, cause.

The adults are merely there to further the plot. Bill Murray's lackadaisical mayor, who may be more devious than his demeanor lets on, and his toadies, Snode (Toby Jones) and Looper (Mackenzie Crook). Doon's father (Tim Robbins) breaks the mould by not actually having perished and is consumed with making useless gadgets. Finally Sul (Martin Landau), Doon's narcoleptic supervisor at the power plant, works wonders with duct tape. Aside from the unhelpful adults, Ember also boasts a more tangible threat in the form of voracious PG-rated predators for that little extra something.

The City Of Ember is everything you might wish - one-part Dickensian London, one-part Terry Gilliam's Brazil and one part CS Lewis' The Silver Chair. The joy of the film is in the production design and the kind of loopy that folk go when corked up underground for a few generations.

The quest element of the movie doesn't really work, as the precious box contains instructions, not clues, the instructions have just been obscured, so there's no audience involvement in the puzzle-solving which I fancy they should have in this sort of feature.

The cast are fairly winning, with a nod to Toby Jones and a big round of applause to for Liz Smith for sterling character work down through the years and here sporting a mid-Atlantic accent rather than her normal Scunthorpe tones. In case you were wondering where the film is supposed to be set, note the three-pin plugs everywhere!

Good as Caroline Thompson's script is (the book by Jeanne Duprau, they tell me, is better) this is a City Of Ember that could do with a little stoking. It took me a while to realise I was watching a softer, kinder version of George Lucas' THX 1138, with the merest whiff of satire, but the whole is a pleasant enough time filler while we await the next Harry Potter adventure to reach the light of day.

Reviewed on: 19 Oct 2008
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Can a pair of teens save their world by finding a time capsule?
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Director: Gil Kenan

Writer: Caroline Thompson

Starring: Harry Treadaway, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, Martin Landau, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook

Year: 2008

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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If you like this, try:

The Spiderwick Chronicles
THX 1138