Review

Harry visits the CITY OF EMBER and recommends it to the tourists!

Published at: Oct. 10, 2008, 3:49 a.m. CST

A post-apocalyptic children’s film about the Morlock existence of humanity after… the big… whatever happened. That’s CITY OF EMBER. At no point do we know what year the world came to an end. Nor do we know what year the City of Ember was constructed or inhabited. We know from the pre-credit sequence that it seemed to have been made years before the end. The concept was that the people of Ember knew nothing of the outside world, so that when the outside world came to an end, they would not feel the loss for what was lost. For those in Ember, they worship the generator that gives them light, they each service the city which provides their existence. They have no choice for their place or purpose in life, it is a random drawing from a bag which dictates their purpose. It is a communal existence, seemingly without money or possessions. Nothing in this world seems from ours. It is wholly constructed from Ember. Be it the clothing, the style of buildings, the technology… nothing from our world is there. CITY OF EMBER isn’t an action film, nor is it a thrill-a-minute. It is frankly an atmosphere piece of science fiction, a fairy tale about life after the end of the world – and I adore it. I love that the future hope is in the hands of children, simply because they have not learned to simply accept their lot in life, yet. It’s a film that allows its story to unfold as a mystery found, rather than pursued. Clues that bump into making sense. Children that are taking their first days away from childhood – upon their Assignment Day – the day they find their purpose, two kids that are not happy with their initial assignments switch jobs with one another – and that sets everything into motion. Director Gil Kenan has two films to his credit, the thrillingly entertaining animated MONSTER HOUSE and this, his first live-action effort – which while still a children’s film – it is a complete 180 from the purpose and intent of MONSTER HOUSE. CITY OF EMBER is about teaching children to think for themselves, to question authority, to pursue the truth even at great risk and as a child of parents that gave me a QUESTION AUTHORITY shirt as a kid – I found CITY OF EMBER to be a fantastic film. The style and look of the film harkens back to German Expressionism and Machine Age design. The rebelling against the socialism government is thrilling – and I find myself wondering if the job of MAYOR is chosen at random as well. The lead children: Saoirse Ronan and Harry Treadaway are exceptional in the film. At no point do they sound or act like children of our day. No goofy exclamations, just a thirst for what it all means, a genuine concern for the future of their society and the courage to pursue the mystery they find themselves caught up in. In particular, Saoirse Ronan shines. We loved her in ATONEMENT and here in CITY OF EMBER she radiates intelligence and a moral outrage when she finds the corruption within her small town Mayor’s office. It seems even after the end of the world, political corruption is still a rule rather than an exception. The mayor of Ember is played by Bill Murray, who seems more concerned about stocking his private nest, than the good of the people – and his staff – headed by the fantastic Toby Jones is terrific. Kind, yet menacing. Then there’s the man that does the mayor’s dirty work of scavenging, Mackenzie Crook – a quirky fellow with a club foot and a taste for the younger ladies. (Nothing inappropriate is on screen, just inferred) Of the entire adult cast, my two faves are Martin Landau & Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Martin Landau – I like to think – is the prototypical citizen of Ember. He has his job in Pipeworks, he’s been doing it so long that he can remember or relate to scant else. He’s dying on his feet, doddering away patching a patch on a pipe that has been patched countless times and will need countless more. Then there’s Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s Clary, who is the gardener in this city somewhere inside the husk of our planet. She was once like Saorise’s Lina Mayfleet – dreaming of escaping Ember, but her revolutionary past ended in tragedy and left her and her friends unwilling to look further. CITY OF EMBER is a subtly frightening film. I know in the book, the mysteries were more of a word puzzle variety, and here they’ve been turned into more of a visual mystery. I’ve also seen some that complain about the strange over-sized critters that pop up – and question why they were added. For me, this helps to explain why the people of Ember don’t venture out into the darkness – and more so it adds to the creepiness. What has happened to the world that outsized creatures come from the darkness attracted by the light? What happened on the surface that these people were buried for 200 years? I’ve seen CITY OF EMBER a couple of times now – and I found the film stronger upon second viewing as there were so many details design wise to pick up on. Like the map, if you notice – it’s the same map from METROPOLIS. And the look of Ember is easier to take in after a once through. I think this is a film that will grow a bit in time. At the very least, it’s nice to see a children’s film that isn’t about farting, poop or potty mouths. But is rather about thinking children in dire situations. In many ways this film plays as a companion piece for WALL*E – a film that is vastly more entertaining, but is a stylistic and tonal cousin. That Hollywood chose Armageddon as a setting for children stories – even as the financial world seems to be falling apart… coincidence? Or premeditated? 2012 is getting closer.

Readers Talkback

comments powered by Disqus
    + Expand All
  • Oct. 10, 2008, 4 a.m. CST

    first! hurrah?

    by ilander66

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 4:01 a.m. CST

    Please no Script Girl tomorrow...

    by NeilF

    Let's not sink down to that level again...

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 4:02 a.m. CST

    nice review harry cant wait for this one

    by ilander66

    they have really downplayed the marketing on this maybe after the over saturation of the summer it will be nice going into a film not having seen the money shots a dozen times or all the best one liners (which for me ruined tropic thunder by the time i saw it i was just checking off incidents from the trailer as it went along.)

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 4:03 a.m. CST

    omg

    by BurgerKing

    its actually good?

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 4:08 a.m. CST

    Monster House was great

    by Evil Hobbit

    I like that it was genuinely scary at times, and thus a true horror film for kids.

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 4:24 a.m. CST

    2012 is power ranger time!

    by kingoflight

    remember the pink one she was hot ! No one tell zorgon that his hideout was made up of loo rolls or he'll get hella mad and beat up on nerdy one again!

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 5:08 a.m. CST

    Martin lawerence - I woke up this moring with a power ranger in

    by barnaby jones

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 5:09 a.m. CST

    arse

    by barnaby jones

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 5:11 a.m. CST

    Monster House was Class

    by FILMFUNK

    This looks well nice. Hope wild Bill Murray doesn't spoil it with his deadpan face!

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 5:39 a.m. CST

    Dark City for kids

    by theycallmemrglass

    I'm booking my ticket, and yeah Monster House fucking rocked. I wont raise my expectations too much though as Wall-E was dissapointing, inevitably, given the big fucking hype it got.

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 6:01 a.m. CST

    Sounds like Bio Shock

    by Itchy

    Go buy an Xbox360 and play this game ... it's absolutely awesome, and set in a world that sounds like a freaked out version of Ember.

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 6:57 a.m. CST

    So, no Avatar trailer then?

    by moody by nature

    Damn the cock-teasing...

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 7:38 a.m. CST

    So this is like the Matrix sequels...

    by Kid Z

    ...for kids???

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 7:50 a.m. CST

    2012... the year we...

    by gotilk

    ..call a few million people friggen idiots again. You know, like year 2000.

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 9:49 a.m. CST

    December 21, 2012: I will be hungover in a post coital trance.

    by Stereotypical Evil Archer

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 9:58 a.m. CST

    there are worse films you could take your kid to

    by bingo the clown

    But if you don't have kids, there's not much to recommend. I felt intensely apathetic watching it.

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 10:42 a.m. CST

    2nd vote on playing Bioshock

    by ArcadianDS

    Some have said that playing Bioshock is like watching an interactive movie. To some extent this is untrue. Much of the meat of its story consists of discovering audio recordings all over the place (the whole city had an obsession with what I suppose we might call 'audio-blogging'). If you skip these, you dont get much in the way of a 'movie-quality experience' - so if you're not into video games, but after hearing that this game is an 'interactive movie experience', be sure to indulge and enjoy these audio blogs that you discover.<p> dont get me wrong - the story itself is fantastic. It takes some great, classic Hollywood twists and turns, and as for the ending, I played 'savior' and rescued kids (you're given a moral choice to rescue children or destroy them. sounds like an easy choice, but in many ways, its as if you stumbled upon a pack of vampire 8 year olds. Do you attempt to save and cure them, or put them out of their misery. The game affords a measure of mercy in either decision, so you can peacefully choose your own path). ANYWAY - I chose to 'cure' them, and I dont know if the ending is the same, but the ending I got from that was just breath-taking. I cried, and then I put down the controller and went over to where my 3 year old daughter was playing with some stuffed animals, and I just hugged her tight.<p> for a very long time.<p> What a tremendous game.

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 10:43 a.m. CST

    They emerge into the real world and discover...

    by zacdilone

    ...Randy Newman singing, "Red-headed lady, reachin' for an apple. Gonna take a bite, nope, nope. She's gonna breathe on it first. Wipes it on her blouse... She takes a bite, chews it once, twice, three times, four times, stops. Saliva workin'. She takes a long hard look at Randy. Five times. Fat old husband walkin over...

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 11:27 a.m. CST

    yeah the ending is painfully obvious

    by Holodigm

    the world never ended, they escape and everything is bright sunshine. hurrah.

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 12:28 p.m. CST

    the people of Ember knew nothing of the outside world,

    by emeraldboy

    John McCain would love this film....and I am sure palin thinks that the City of Ember exists. and that its lead by Bono, the king of ireland.

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 12:55 p.m. CST

    My daughter and I read this book last year

    by BiggusDickus

    Great stuff! If you're not familiar with the story, think 'Logan's Run' for the 9-12 bracket. Hope the film does the biz - it sounds like it will! Cheers, Big H!

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 1:34 p.m. CST

    I taught on of the actors in the movie

    by Maximus Prime

    A young lad called Myles Thompson, a good, down to earth and friendly kid, hope he goes far...<p> would love to chat with him about working with Bill Murray, instead of having to do some actual teaching work...hope the movie does well

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 1:53 p.m. CST

    So do they escape the City at the end of the movie and find

    by Johnny Smith

    Robert Duvall on the surface, also wondering what the hell is going on as he watches the sunset?

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 3:03 p.m. CST

    this looks fucking horrible......Monster House was dull.....

    by DANNYGLOVERS_DICKBLOOD

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 4:55 p.m. CST

    I really enjoyed it...

    by Sakurai

    It was too short though. I wanted a bit more meaningful buildup to the climax.

  • Oct. 10, 2008, 4:55 p.m. CST

    Bill Murray did say on Letterman last night

    by skimn

    that this is one of his favorite projects ever. Wow. Too bad this will die at the box office. In the past few weeks I've been bombarded with ads for Body Of Lies, and have seen just one ad for this THIS week. I thought "Oh, this is coming out THIS weekend.." I was totally unaware, and try to keep up with movies and release dates.<p>And geez Danny, you are a hard man to please. My daughter and I both enjoyed Monster House. Thought it moved at a great pace (the opening tricycle sequence is an animation tour-de-force), and was an original twist on the haunted house gimmick.<p>Finally, if Gore Verbinski wasn't working on BioShock, Kenan looks like he would be a natural.

  • Oct. 11, 2008, 7:59 p.m. CST

    closing night film at fantastic fest

    by birdy birdman

    what a slap in the face. this movie is absolute garbage, mindless recycled shit. to run something this abysmally MEDIOCRE even by kid's film standards as the fucking CLOSING FEATURE was confusing, disheartening and depressing. it seemed like Fantastic Fest was gaining so much momentum but the sellout/mediocrity factor this year was an outright betrayal to dedicated genre fans. die.

  • Oct. 12, 2008, 4:09 a.m. CST

    Wall-E - Vastly more entertaining....?

    by jazzdownunder

    I wanted to enjoy Wall-E, I really did. But frankly it was a movie built around a set of toys, with a story just barely flimsy enough to prop the painfully predictable plot points up to the damp squib ending. I just *know* that CITY OF EMBER will be vastly more entertaining than Wall-E because it has the confidence to put a story outline in the trailers, something that was - in retrospect - entirely missing from the Wall-E build up, and now we know why.

  • Oct. 13, 2008, 4:06 a.m. CST

    just saw it tonight

    by drave117

    Tremendously entertaining. It's the love child of Logan's Run and Goonies.

  • Oct. 21, 2008, 10:45 p.m. CST

    Loved it...

    by IamZardoz

    Good sci-fi is when the filmaker creates a world you want to explore and know more about; Logans Run, Blade Runner and the like. City of Embaer is like that and they dont dumb it down, I like they never explain everything at the beginning. Two things did suck though, the "monster" and the ending. Why do they spoil good movies with monsters, they did the same damn thing to Sunshine or whatever it was called, a good movie ruined by a monster.