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City of Ember (2008)

Escape is the only option.

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 95 minutes

US Certificate: PG UK Certificate: PG


I had worked on an interview with the visual effects guys from City of Ember before it ever hit theaters, and when I heard about it, I thought the effects alone sounded amazing. And they are. More importantly, though, this is an adventure that, while geared in some ways towards kids, can be enjoyed on many levels by just about anybody.

The world is coming to an end, so a whole bunch of wise scientists have created the underground city of Ember and everyone’s been living there for over 200 years. See, the scientist guys developed instructions on how to return to the surface after two centuries had passed, instructions that were to be passed on to each successive mayor. As will happen, though, in a span of 200 years, the chain of command got off track and the box containing all pertinent information got tossed in a closet. Unfortunately, Ember is beginning to fail, and it’s up to young Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) and Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan) to uncover the truth and save their city before the generator fails and everything is destroyed.

First, before I say anything else—Bill Murray was the absolute perfect choice as smarmy and vaguely menacing Mayor Cole. When he walks in for his first speech, shielded from the lack of sun by a shabby canopy that barely covers his head, his entire character—and the worsening situation of Ember itself—is defined. The world underground is a fully realized marvel, and the reddish glow that casts its bloody shadow on all of Ember’s citizens beautifully captures the concept that everyone is being dwarfed by the giant “heart” of the city—the generator. Pacing is quick, with no real lags that slow the action with unnecessary explanation, allowing the adventure to flow with ease and the story to unfold in a way that is neither confusing nor dull. There are a few glitches along the way—Lina is uncharacteristically and somewhat unrealistically trusting, and for some, the religious and/or political allegory elements may seem too heavy-handed. Personally, I enjoyed the not so subtle jabs at organized religion (“the Builders will save us”), unquestioning patriotism (citizens basically do a Pledge of Allegiance to the generator, even throwing in a line that says something about Ember being “a light in a dark world”), and the overall warning against sheep-like following of any set of ideas (Doon’s mentor at the Pipeworks, Saul, has never learned what some of the equipment he works with is for, even after working near it for decades, simply because it’s “not his job”), especially in a film whose audience is widely comprised of children. With a nod towards Metropolis, this is a movie that didn’t make much of a splash when it was released, but given time, could become a family classic.

It's Got: Great effects and atmosphere, Villainous Bill Murray, A lot of thinly veiled subtext.

It Needs: DVD Extras (they could’ve done so much!), A little more smarts from Lina, Better promotion.

DVD Extras None. DVD Extras Rating: 0/10


Suffering from a lack of promotion and marketing, City of Ember never had the audience it deserved, but time will prove this cautionary tale of independent thinking is also a beautifully made, exciting adventure tale that works on many levels.