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City of Ember (2008)

PG  |   |  Adventure, Family, Fantasy  |  10 October 2008 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.5/10 from 50,419 users   Metascore: 58/100
Reviews: 100 user | 118 critic | 27 from Metacritic.com

For generations, the people of the City of Ember have flourished in an amazing world of glittering lights. But Ember's once powerful generator is failing ... and the great lamps that illuminate the city are starting to flicker.



(screenplay), (book)
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5 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Mayor's Guard
Matt Jessup ...
Lara McIvor ...
Myles Thompson ...
Eoin McAndrew ...
Rachel Morton ...
Lorraine Hilton ...


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 garykmcd

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

food | box | scientist | mayor | pipeworks | See All (160) »


Escape Is The Only Option See more »

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for mild peril and some thematic elements | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

10 October 2008 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Cidade das Sombras  »

Box Office


$55,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

£496,909 (UK) (10 October 2008)


$7,871,693 (USA) (9 January 2009)

Company Credits

Production Co:

,  »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| |


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The first time Bill Murray and Martin Landau have been in a film together since Ed Wood (1994). And Caroline Thompson, the screenwriter on City of Ember (2008) regularly works with Tim Burton. See more »


The scene where Doon is watching the boat follow its track, the boat automatically launches into the water. Yet when the three get into the boat, the boat does not launch until Doon pulls a lever. See more »


[Doon and Lina have discovered a hidden bicycle-like jalopy with which their parents had tried to escape Ember, many years ago]
Lina Mayfleet: What is this?
Doon Harrow: [recognizing the built-from-weird-parts look of the thing] My dad made this.
Lina Mayfleet: It doesn't look very safe.
Doon Harrow: That's my dad. Everything he makes looks like this.
See more »


Featured in At the Movies: Episode #5.41 (2008) See more »


Mayor's Fanfare
Written and Performed by Douglas Pipes
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Fading Ember
12 October 2008 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

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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