City of Ember - Movie Review


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City of Ember

I actually ended up watching City of Ember on an airplane ride back from DC. The viewing conditions were less than desirable. I sat next to a Jewish woman and her crying child, and after being repeatedly assumed to be part of their family (likely due to my rather large nose) I simply accepted a kosher dinner as my own. City of Ember was my second viewing choice after watching ten minutes of "The Rocker." Clearly I didn't expect much. But in this world filled with rushed children's fantasy movies I was surprised to find that the experience was not only enjoyable, but after two months of not writing a review, actually quite memorable.

Nobody's quite certain exactly what happened, but it's safe to say that it was bad and made living on the surface of the earth a somewhat undesirable situation. In a last ditch effort for sustainable life, a large community decided to literally go underground with their city, never to emerge for another 200 years. The second downside to all this is that the clock stopped ticking a hundred years or so ago, so nobody knows if it's safe outside, or even if there's an outside at all. The only world they know is the dim one they reside in, with glowing lanterns suspended hundreds of feet above them. The fact is, they've been there for too long, and now the city is beginning to die out.

We could say that The City of Ember is essentially Plato's cave, and in this story it's up to two children to step outside of it. All in all, it's a film about philosophers and the opposition they must face. But that might be looking at it a tad too deep. The film has mutated monsters, cute mutated pets, wild inventions and flume rides. It's a film geared towards kids who don't really need to delve into the concepts right now but might start thinking about them later, which, in my opinion, is the kind of film that is most needed today in the world of Dora the Explorer and television shows that assume kids are mentally handicapped.

To top it off, the young actors in this film are actually quite good, and despite how I usually feel when watching films like this, I was actually rooting for them instead of shaking my head in embarrassment. Memories of Star Wars: Episode I, come to mind. In this film they hold their own alongside Murray and Tim Robbins, which is saying something.

The film works because we get to look at it from the perspective of someone who gets to live on the upside looking down. Despite a few formulaic plot devices, including a greedy mayor played by Bill Murray, the film remains compelling because we genuinely want to know what's waiting on the surface. The downside to this film is that it doesn't ask enough questions, doesn't draw enough parallels, and doesn't entirely explore that darkness just outside our grasp, but again, this really is a kid's movie. It's the Twilight Zone without the revelation of being dead all along, or being as good as dead. Because of it, we kind of know how well things are going to turn out, but we don't know in what way it will unfold. In addition, the action sequences have the odd tendency to slow things down just before we find our answers. Still, they're imaginative nonetheless, if not a tad unfortunate when they sacrifice a few of the film's timeless qualities with the addition of CGI.

The City of Ember is flawed, but it's far more than I bargained for. What we find near the end is something unnerving and quite eerie. We get to explore the apocalypse in reverse and fill in those holes left by decision-makers we've never met but have to accept. For video-gamers, this might be Bioshock for tots.

The bottom line is that you could do much worse that go for a children's film featuring a set straight out of Dark City mixed with Brazil, and you don't have to wait to see it on an airplane. I say you see it.

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