PG for mild peril and some thematic elements.
Action/Adventure, Science Fiction/Fantasy
Oct. 10, 2008
Bill Murray, Toby Jones, Saoirse Ronan, Tim Robbins, Martin Landau
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City of Ember
- Danger and jeopardy make for an exciting, entertaining movie. City of Ember is full of both.
Sometime in the future, a worldwide crisis caused the best minds to build an underground city to save a remnant of mankind. They stocked the city with food and equipped it with a generator with enough power to last for 200 years. They gave the mayor a box that counts down every year to 200 years and, when opened, will show the people how to exit the city. After several mayors, however, the box with the builders instructions was forgotten.
Now, 200 years have passed, and the City of Ember is dying. The generator coughs and sputters for longer and longer periods of time. The lights fall from the cave roof. The shoe store only has one pair left. The warehouse only has a few cans of food. But, the happy face mayor, played to wry perfection by Bill Murray, acts like everything is hunky dory.
On assignment day, the day when the next generation of young workers graduate, Lina is praying with all her might to be a messenger, but she is designated to work in the vast underground Pipeworks near the generator. Her classmate, Doon Harrow, whose father is an inventor, wants to work near the generator so he can fix it. He panics when he pulls the messenger assignment that will keep him far away from the generator. Although they have to read their assignments out loud to the mayor, Doon and Lina exchange assignments after the ceremony.
Down in the Pipeworks, Doon meets an old codger named Sol, played magnificently by Martin Landau. Through Sol, Doon realizes how far gone the city is and starts to suspect there may be an escape.
Lina discovers that her grandfather, having been the mayor, left the precious builders’ box in their closet. Unfortunately, when it pops open, her little sister Poppy starts eating the instructions on how to exit the city and save the people.
Working together, Lina and Doon start to figure out there is an escape from Ember. In the process, they discover the mayor has a secret chamber where he has stocked up on most of the remaining food.
As soon as the mayor realizes he is found out, he sends his thugs to capture Lina and Doon. So City of Ember becomes a race against time to decipher the builders’ instructions so Lina and Doon can escape to the future.
City of Ember is a very clean movie in the sense that there are no foul words or crude elements. At the same time, the city in City of Ember is a very dirty, decaying, human dystopia. The city and its rulers show the failure of humanity, especially the failure of big government. The mayor’s solution to the city’s problems is to appoint a committee to make recommendations. Bill Murray sounds like every loony leftist National Socialist politician. His sycophants do a perfect job of creating an aura of National Socialism, or liberal fascism with a happy face. He may remind many viewers of another politician currently running for president. The mayor’s vacuous statements mask his greedy heart.
The good news is that justice triumphs over tyranny. Lina and Doon show the value of liberty, individual responsibility, loyalty, and most of the cardinal virtues. Lina does steal part of a key from the mayor. She confesses to stealing it, but there is no retribution. This act itself could produce a whole dialogue or treatise on how to deal with dictators.
City of Ember may be a little too scary for young children. Aside from a giant mole, who is really scary, the threats from the death of the generator and from the mayor and his goons are often intense enough to make you jump out of your seat. The filmmakers are to be commended for producing a movie full of jeopardy and danger without using blood and gore. However, parents are to be cautioned, because little children may find the movie too scary at times.
Dystopia teen novels are often written to help teenagers face the future. City of Ember does just that. It is the right movie for the right time, whether one is concerned about the economic collapse or the government’s current power grab, or how wicked people can be when they have a happy face. It is surprising that some secular critics have appreciated this movie. It is about as conservative as movies ever get, and much more winsome than some of the conservative documentaries out there. It even tells us that we need to follow the Builder’s manual to make it out of our world alive.
Some of the young people in the screening came out saying City of Ember is a great movie. If it doesn’t immediately find an audience, it may become a cult favorite.
That said, this is not a big budget science fiction movie. Budget constraints show in the music and some other areas. Even so, the power of the story, the acting and the directing makes up for the limited technical effects and some of the off-the-shelf music. Of course, the music can be excused because they’ve been trapped in Ember for 200 years.
City of Ember is a movie that will entertain, enlighten and encourage. It is a thrilling and captivating science fiction adventure for families, including teenagers, with profound, incisive things to say. Who could ask for anything more?
Address Comments To:
Rupert Murdoch, Chairman/CEO of News Corp.
Peter Chernin, President/COO of The Fox Group
Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos, Chairmen/CEO
Fox Filmed Entertainment
20th Century Fox Film Corp.
(Fox Searchlight Pictures and Fox Atomic)
10201 West Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Phone: (310) 369-1000
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