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When mankind is about to come to an end, a group of scientists decide to create and populate a city deep underground. The city of Ember is to last for 200 years after which its inhabitants are to retrieve from a strong box instructions to return to the surface. Over time however, the message is lost and life in Ember is rapidly deteriorating. Their power supply is failing and food is being rationed. It's left to two young adults to unearth the secret of Ember and to lead the way out. Written by
'Ember' is a Hungarian word which means 'man' and 'human' in English. See more »
When Lina Mayfleet receives her red messenger poncho she puts it on quickly and Captain Fleery begins lacing it up. He never finishes, but when Lina pauses at the door to recite the protocol, it is more fully laced up. See more »
At first blush, City of Ember seems like it would be a thrilling sci-fi adventure, a page out of Jules Verne's playbook, but ultimately it fails to completely scale the dizzying heights of its creative premise. The movie does deliver some intrigue and some compelling performances (not to mention some mailed-in ones), but huge lapses in logic that might be detected even by the youngest audience member prevent it from being the heart-stopping classic it wants to be.
Some 200 years ago, life on Earth was dying, and in its waning moments great physicists, inventors, and architects designed and built a huge underground city powered by a gigantic generator. The Builders, though, possess some forethought and, assuming that someday the surface will again be inhabitable, they enclosed specific instructions for the citizens of Ember to eventually escape to the sunlight. This information was placed inside a metal box and alarmed with a 200-year timer; by the end of that time, the Builders reasoned, the surface would be habitable. This box was then handed off from mayor to mayor for nearly 200 years. But, as might be expected, the chain broke somewhere along the way, and at present the box sits in a closet, its owner unknowing of its raison d'etre. So here we are, 200 years down the road, and the lights in Ember flicker occasionally, sometimes more than occasionally, and it's apparent to a few that the generator's days are numbered.
Our story focuses on two children, Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan) and Doon Harrow (Harry Treadway). At the movie's outset, each has received his and her assigned job for life - Lina as a messenger (all verbal), and Doon working in the pipeworks, where he hopes to find a way to save the generator. During the course of their duties, as the blackouts increase, each learns about the mysterious silver box, and they team up to decipher the tattered remnants of the exit instructions. Naturally, they run into complications with Doon's father (Tim Robbins) and the current mayor (Bill Murray), and just as naturally they're eventually pursued by people who'd just as soon no one ever figured out how to leave the dark city.
For the most part, the casting is on target; Ronan seems a lot more engaging and appealing here than she did just last year in Atonement, and Treadway, although looking like a refugee from High School Musical, is just as impressive. Robbins is excellent in a small, but pivotal role, as is Martin Landau (whatever became of him?) as the requisite old-guy-who-sort-of-knows-stuff. The only puzzling casting is that of Murray as the town's jovial mayor; he seems glib and cheerful enough, but it almost feels like he's being ironic, rather than being a part of the story. Often, this sort of approach makes for a hammy performance, but Murray's too subtle here for pure hamminess; he's more like a square peg in a round hole.
The lapses in logic take some willful ignorance to, well, ignore. We see various businesses and transportation, but there's apparently no police, no cemeteries, no fresh fruit. Now, bear in mind that these people have been down there for two centuries. Sure, they have a lot of canned goods, but something tells me they'd be in poor health after a lifetime of poor eating habits. Then there's the fact that everyone seems clueless about the surface. I don't mean that they don't know what's on it; they don't even know there IS a surface. Attempting to leave the city is a jailable offense, okay, but these people don't even know there's something to escape to. And that makes no sense right there. They haven't been down there for 2000 years, just 200. That means approximately nine generations after the ones who first lived there, and in often there are three generations alive at any given time. So it's not tough to imagine the tales of the outside world being orally handed down from generation to generation, tales of Super Bowls, Shakespeare, Sex and the City, and Snoopy. But apparently the first generationers vowed never to speak of their upper lives again, or something.
City of Ember is pretty fascinating and not complex, meaning it'll grab you (and, more importantly, teens and younger) and not force you to figure things out in order to keep up with the plot. Yes, there are twists and turns, but there aren't huge lapses in logic, at least nothing to dissuade you from staying through to the end. The end, by the way, is satisfying, even beautifully rendered. This might be one time (of many) to read the book, too. Or instead.
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