BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The city of Ember is hidden underground in order to allow mankind to survive some kind of apocalypse. The people live there for 200 years, forgetting completely about the surface and about the builders instructions on how to get out, until 2 young children find the key.
PROS: Very high production value, excellent set, special effects, and costumes (with a fantastic Brazil-like look), quality actors.
CONS: Terribly boring, no action, atrocious editing, unsympathetic characters.
BOTTOM LINE: Skip!
I so much wanted to see City of Ember after hearing about the series created by Jeanne Duprau and the various Ember books over the last few years. Unfortunately Jeanne must not have been involved in the movie because it stinks.
The plot is a sci-fi staple – some scientists decide to build an underground city to help survive some sort of apocalypse (which is never defined.) The builders try to think of every contingency and leave detailed instructions to the inhabitants, including a secret box that will unlock the city and allow the people to return to the surface. Unfortunately this secret is lost after 200 years and the people have forgotten the surface or that there might be something up there other than eternal darkness. But after 200 years the infrastructure that drives Ember is failing, and it is up to two young children to push their way through the elder’s ignorance.
The plot has a few holes – namely that it is hard to imagine that people would really forget entirely about the surface or the builder’s instruction in only 5 or 6 generations. It is also hard to imagine that nobody would have books anymore or any method of recording history either. But, I was willing to overlook that because the costumers are great, the sets are fantastic, and the special effects are highly believable. The world is gritty and real and lived in. I was also excited by the prospects of top-flight actors such as Bill Murray and Tim Robbins, and the production credit given to Tom Hanks.
Sadly, all of this was for nothing – the script is terrible and editing was bizarre. In the end, the movie was flat out boring with little in the way of action or interest to keep you entertained. It didn’t help that the characters were as flat as they could be, with only the mute 6-year old being slightly sympathetic. As for the rest of them, I didn’t care a lick about them. I think Bill Murrary’s character was supposed to be a villain, but I actually felt sorry for him up until the point where he died for a moment of comic relief. Tim Robbins is barely in the movie (I’m thinking 5 minutes of screen time tops) and frankly just mails in the performance. The child actors aren’t bad, but the things they are given to say and do are so dull it was depressing. And the editing ruined the movie – from strange cuts that confused me to pieces of the plot seemingly cut from the film. I had to go back and watch one section again just to make sure that yes, they did indeed skip over a major plot element. How very odd!
I would certainly avoid this movie – especially if you liked the books because you’ll cry over what they have done with the otherwise solid source material.