Starring: Tim Robbins, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan
Directed by: Gil Kenan (“Monster House”)
Written by: Caroline Thompson (“Corpse Bride”)
You could watch “City of Ember” and think of it as a metaphor for our current economic crisis or you could simply watch it as a human version of “Fraggle Rock.” Either way, there are some great ideas and mythology somewhere inside the story, which stay buried as deep as the city where the film is set.
After the world ends, the underground City of Ember is where the remaining population moves so that mankind can continue to live. Those who have created the city, known as “the builders,” have set a clock inside a small metal box along with the secrets of the outside world, so that after 200 years underground, the citizens would know what to do when their time below the surface of the earth was up.
But as the box changes hands over the years from mayor to mayor, it is somehow misplaced. With city continuing to get older and more fragile and their generator (the only source of electricity) on its last leg, the citizens of Ember come together to try to figure out a way to save their home before the frightening daily blackouts become permanent.
Little do the people of Ember know that a little girl named Lena Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan), a descendant of a past mayor, has found the box tucked away in her senile granny’s house. Although Lena is not quite sure of the box’s history, she would like to tell someone about her discovery, but is worried that the city’s current corrupt leader, Mayor Cole (Bill Murray), could have different plans.
It’s not Murray’s finest hour as he and other talented Academy-Award winning actors like Tim Robbins (“Mystic River”) and Martin Landau (“Ed Wood”) are sorely underused. Sure, they’re only secondary characters but screenwriter Caroline Thompson doesn’t give them anything worthwhile to do. Instead, the story focuses on Lena and her friend Doon (Harry Treadaway) as they search for a way out of the city by following a map they find in the box and piece together.
While the first half of “Ember” offers some neat concepts, director Gil Kenan only skims the surface. I’m not too sure how Jeanne Duprau’s book is different, but in the film version there’s not enough magical moments inside the city and all that is left is a plodding trip to the outside world. Why leave so quickly when the most interesting things are underground? By the third act, “The City of Ember,” somehow becomes another “Journey to the Center of the Earth” with these characters moving in the opposite direction. It might be good enough for water park ride enthusiasts, but not for someone who wants a little more spirited adventure.