Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

City of Ember


Review by Patrick Hodges

This story, based on the bestselling book by Jeanne Duprau, proffers an interesting premise:  civilization has ended (what causes this end is never explained), and a vast underground city – known as Ember - has been constructed so that mankind will be able to survive while whatever calamity that has befallen Earth’s surface has the chance to repair itself.  A timetable of 200 years is set, and instructions for how to leave the city and return to the surface are sealed in a case and given to the first Mayor of Ember.  Unfortunately, over the decades the case and the significance of its contents are lost.

Much, much later, everything in Ember is approaching total collapse:  food supplies are dwindling, the city’s pipes are springing leaks almost hourly, and the generator responsible for all of Ember’s power is starting to fail.  When the case and its instructions for possible salvation fall into the hands of a girl named Lina (Atonement’s Saoirse Ronan), she and her friend Doon (Harry Treadaway) make the mistake of taking their find to Ember’s current mayor (Bill Murray), who is perfectly content to smile his politician’s smile, gobble down what food he can find for himself, and basically fiddle while Rome burns. 

Bottom line: City of Ember will probably go down as a failure.  For whatever reason, Fox-Walden decided to spend next to nothing to advertise this film’s entry into theaters, and that’s a shame.  True, it’s not the most awe-inspiring film ever, but it’s not a total waste of film either.  And you’d think that with veteran actors like Murray, Tim Robbins, Martin Landau, Mary Kay Place and Toby Jones filling out your cast, you’d at least draw some attention to it.  You’d think.  Oh well, there’s always DVD.

Ronan and Treadaway make decent enough protagonists, shouldering the burden of their entire society while dodging the mayor’s goons, some really creepy animal nasties and, let’s face it, a complete lack of knowledge for what they might find if they get where they’re going.  There is a fair amount of drama, tense action and mild scares, just barely enough to make the film recommendable.  But it won’t end up on anyone’s “Best of the Year” list.  My guess is, six months from now, few people will even remember it.

I have read several reviews suggesting a parallel between the direness of Ember’s situation and that of America’s, which is an interesting side-note when you consider that Duprau wrote this story five years ago.  In that respect, Murray’s performance as the Mayor is almost cathartic, so much so that one wonder’s if that was even his intention, given his history.  Whether that runs through your mind while watching this film or not probably won’t make much difference when it comes to your decision about the film’s quality.  Most likely, you’ll end up right where I did:  not good, not bad, just kind of… there.

3 / 5 stars

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