City of Ember

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ember.jpg

Discover the secret.

2008

Genres:
Family, Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Starring:
Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Bill Murray, Martin Landau, Tim Robbins

Summary:
Ember was founded as an isolated underground city designed to preserve a small part of mankind from an unspecified armageddon occurring at the earth's surface. The only citizen of Ember to have any knowledge of the outside world was the mayor. Ember's mayor was also entrusted with a mysterious box that was programmed to open after 200 years, revealing the way out of Ember.

Unfortunately, one of the mayors died suddenly, ending the thread of knowledge and causing the box to be forgotten. Ember's most recent major (Murray) has no knowledge of Ember's origins nor of the traditional role of the mayors. He is most preoccupied with the increasing number of blackouts due to the failure of Ember's generator which leaves everyone in complete darkness for increasing lengths of time.

An apprentice messenger Lina (Ronan) and her engineer friend Doon (Treadaway) hold the key to Ember's future, as they unravel the mystery of the failing generator, the political underbelly of Ember, and the original purpose of their city.

Response:
City of Ember reminded me of a cross between Dark City and The Goonies with a little bit of Harry Potter thrown in the mix. The scenes of the city are stunning and manage to combine elements of both fantasy and science in the setting. Visually, it's a very distinctive movie, and it's worth watching just for the eye candy alone.

Now, this is a family film and only loosely based on traditional science fiction elements. As such, the plot doesn't hold up well to too much scrutiny, particularly regarding the lack of human inquisitiveness for 200 years and the longevity of harmful radiation. But the characters are engaging, and the two young leads do very well, injecting just the right amount of inquisitiveness, innocence, and persistence into their characters. Bill Murray was a complete caricature, but this is what he does best. Tim Robbins' role seemed out of place at times, but he's always a class act so his few scenes were appreciated. And surprise, surprise Martine Landau turned up in this film! I quite like this actor, and his character was funny and ultimately surprisingly touching.

City of Ember follows the standard mystery adventure template: The beginning of the movie gives us the history of Ember and introduces us to our heroes. The middle of the film is filled with intrigue as Doon and Lina try to figure out how to save Ember. The end of the movie turns into a good old fashioned adventure complete with an ancient engine, raging river, and predictable but satisfying discovery. Although City of Ember is quite predictable, it's also just plain fun.

Point Blank:
One of the better sci-fi family films I've seen in a long time.