City of Ember (2008)
City of Ember (2008)

Genre: Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.

Release Date: October 10th, 2008 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Gil Kenan Actors: Harry Treadaway, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Toby Jones, Lucinda Dryzek, Martin Landau, Marianne Jean-Baptiste




ity of Ember” employs a supremely majestic setting to unravel its complex, end-of-the-world, sci-fi adventure yarn. But several missed opportunities keep it from escaping its familiar, family-friendly roller coaster ride aura to become something truly unique. But despite a few overly convenient outcomes and a rushed introduction, the storytelling flaws can’t entirely take away from the enjoyment of solving an epic mystery of a grandly glowing city alongside two very enthusiastic youths.

When the world ended, a group of elite scientists and engineers determined that the only way to save their way of life was to build an underground city far below the decimated surface. Deciding upon a lifespan of 200 years for their city, the key to salvation was locked away in a metal box to be handed down from one mayor to the next until the time was right. But somewhere along the way, the box was forgotten…

Years and years have passed, leaving the once-mighty City of Ember to steadily falter as corrupt officials dictate an antiquated mode of survival and the massive generator that powers the city frequently fails. Now it’s up to two ambitious adolescents, Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) and Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan), to solve the mystery behind the origins of their city and find a way out before their civilization is blanketed in darkness forever. But will futile traditions and old-fashioned greed doom Ember to ruination?

Easily the most impressive piece of the City of Ember puzzle is the delightfully ominous science-fiction visuals. The massive sets were built in Northern Ireland in the shipyard-turned-soundstage of the location the Titanic was actually constructed in (now the largest soundstage in the world), and it’s never more apparent than in the sweeping crane shots through the underground city. The CG elements are also top-notch, but the practical effects flawlessly immerse the audience in the massive, subterraneous realm of pipeworks and generators and giant moles.

While the setting is brilliantly realized, the characters that populate this grandiose city receive far too little development. The introductions and relationship between the two main characters feel truncated, never really furthering even as the story progresses. The origins of each also remain as enigmatic as that of the shining city. And the adult characters similarly fail to provide as much support as they should to enhance the understanding and motives behind the city’s cryptic suppression, though Bill Murray gets to ham it up as the transparent, gluttonous mayor harboring a devious agenda of his own.

Like something blended from a video game universe (“Bioshock” in particular) and “12 Monkeys’” post-apocalyptic, tunneling, sewer-world (or even “Delicatessen’s” underground movement or “The Terminator’s” hypogeal bomb shelters), “City of Ember” packs adventure and intrigue into the wondrous exploration of a society crumbling from age and deceit. As the young heroes scour the dank passages and forgotten tunnels, it’s difficult not to become immersed in the fun of uncovering clues and discovering secrets in a society and landscape with few caps on creativity. Plus, with the existence of other novels by author Jeanne DuPrau, it’s possible that further theatrical chapters will follow.

– The Massie Twins

  • 7/10