Monday, October 20, 2008

City of Ember

Mixed reviews. You have to love them. You don’t know what you are getting yourself into when you go into a film that none of the critics can agree on. City of Ember wasn’t necessarily panned, it just hasn’t gotten exceptional reviews. I had not read a review raving about this film prior to taking my son to see it over the weekend. So I really did not have high expectations going in to this one.

I was pleasantly surprised at this film. It wasn’t one of those films that creates a lasting impression and it certainly will never go down as a classic. However, City of Ember was an entertaining take on Science Fiction from a child’s perspective. It is a film that was heavily marketed to younger viewers (my son claimed he had seen the trailer to this film several times, but I had never seen it…so it must have been on Nick or Disney Channel). The marketing must have worked, because the theater was crowded during the matinee showing. The crowd appeared to be around my sons age, ranging from seven or eight up to about twelve for the most part. Just a few years younger than the characters this film portrays.

City of Ember tells the story of an underground city built by “The Builders.” The builders planned the city to withstand unstated changes occurring in the world at a critical juncture in time. The sealed instructions for leaving the underground city in a metallic box designed to open in 200 years. The box is passed from one city Mayor to the other over a century and a half. One Mayor dies unexpectedly and the box lies dormant in his closet for the remaining half a century, opening unnoticed in the closet. We pick up the story at a tumultuous juncture, when the city is undergoing severe difficulties. Powered by a giant generator, the city is wholly reliant on its continued functioning in the absence of adequate parts and knowledge. Blackouts, food shortages and a corrupt Mayor indicate that things are unlikely to improve. It is illegal to venture outside the lighted areas of the city which means that there is no way to know if anything exists beyond the cavernous walls of the subterranean society. A couple of recently graduated students hold the future of the city in their hands. Their combined knowledge might hold the key to the world beyond their city. Finding that world is an adventure filled with minor sub-plots that are sometimes interesting and at times a distraction.

City of Ember is based on a 2003 book written by Jeanne Duprau and adapted to a screenplay by Caroline Thompson. I did not read the book and can offer no comparisons between the two. Duprau wrote a sequel called The People of Sparks which may find its way to the big screen if this movie manages to do well. The plot does not contain much complexity and is a bit predictable, which makes it age appropriate. The characters are interesting in a Who-ville sort of way. The sub-plots are shallow and seem to be intended to provide details related to the overall story. I found the storyline to be engaging and the characters developed enough for my liking.

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