Quick Hit: Fun, with a bit too much fluff, not enough substance and far too abrupt an ending.
Sometimes movies have trouble figuring out who to market to. I think City of Ember (and probably the movie tanking at the box office right now, Mortal Engines) are examples of that. Both are filled with high science fiction or fantasy like ideas, but both have their edges dulled a bit to serve as family, or at least preteen films. They also feature younger characters as the leads. The issue is that a lot of the content is stuff that if done larger, would probably have adult themes. Anyway, I’ve digressed enough, you’ll understand more my faithful DFPers as I tell you about the movie.
City of Ember is based on a book by Jeanne Duprau. The story is about the City of Ember (surprised you there didn’t I?) – a town underground that is fill of people who have never seen the outside. This is only a bit of a problem, until the lights begin to fade as the generator that has served their town for so long starts to die.
Enter young heroes Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan) and Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway). They discover a box that helps point them in the direction of Ember’s past – and allows them to start to piece together a story of the treachery that has become Ember’s leadership - namely, Mayor Cole (Bill Murray) and his lackey Barton Snode (Toby Jones). Some of what they uncover is pretty cliché, and a bit is unexplained as to why they have to resort to such things, but hey, it’s just a kids film right?
Wrong – the fact that this film doesn’t take the time to explain its reasoning for putting its characters in such spots without a way out, or even attempting to explain such things as giant moles is a tragedy, and goes back to what I started with. I think sometimes those that are in charge of adapting a screenplay from a book do the same thing – take the highlights, and assume you know the rest. But I don’t know the rest, and even a kid would question things like an extremely complicated exit ramp for those leaving Ember to eventually follow.
The acting is pretty good, with Murray giving another memorable performance and Toby Jones continuing to make you hate and worry about him popping up in another film. An extremely young Saoirse shows that she has acting chops here that probably led to her casting in subsequent films. But it just doesn’t have enough to it, despite the fun scenes involving job assignment, or Mayfleet running through the streets. There just isn’t a big enough adaptation for this really big story, and it’s sad, because it leaves you wanting.
Nowhere is this more evident than the end of the film, where just ends. A rock drops from the surface, and the movie ends. I get that there’s more to it, but shouldn’t you at least attempt to describe why or how? I don’t know, maybe I was just in a mood, but this really annoyed me. I couldn’t get past it, and that’s why I’m giving the film a “D+” despite creating an admittedly fascinating world.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"