a critiQal film review City of Ember (2008)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: For generations, the people of Ember have flourished in an amazing world of glittering lights. But Ember's once powerful generator is failing. Now, two teenagers must search Ember for clues that will help the citizens escape before the lights go out forever.

623 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 6s)
  • ...Occasional glimpses of Robbins, Murray and especially Landau should help viewers stick with this one to it's satisfactory close -if they can make it past some of the dull subplots along the way.

With the hottest new release, already under our belts, we set out to check out some of the other new films that have recently made their way to DVD.

Among these new releases is the sci-fi-ish City Of Ember, apparently based on a popular novel. While we hadn’t heard about the novel before now, the preview made this one look interesting, and – with appearances by Bill Murray, Martin Landau and Tim Robbins – somewhat appealing, so we decided to check out City Of Ember. Would the help of major stars be able to bring this one up from just another bad novel adaptation, or were we bound to be disappointed by yet another novel-turned-movie?

Saorise Ronan and Harry Treadaway give decent, if rather uncompelling, performances as the two main stars of City of Ember. Deespite apparently not being able to display a huge range of emotion, these two – especially Saorise – do manage to keep the movie flowing, and give the viewer at least a vague reason to keep watching.

But, it’s the glimpses of the more well-known names that really keep the viewer from tuning the film out completely. Whether it’s fast glimpses of selfish mayor Bill Murray, Martin Landau as a narcoleptic pipeworker, or fatherly Tim Robbins, these recognizable faces really are what keep the viewer going. Unfortunately, their appearances aren’t as frequent as viewers would like, but they do add a refreshing take to their characters that helps keep the viewer entertained – especially Martin Landau, who provides most of the unexpected comic relief by way of his sudden naps.

Sadly, however, the story itself and the film’s aim are wildly at odds. While the story is all about humankind’s bitter struggle for survival, the film portrays the characters with a more comedic feel to them. Whether it’s Landau’s aforementioned pipeworker, or Murray’s slovenly gluttonous mayor, or even the two “heroes” of the film, Ronan and Treadaway’s slightly rebellious teens, each character is played with a lightness that conflicts with the dire straits of the plot. After all, with their world crashing down around them, it’s Armageddon time to them, but their crazy rantings – and their silly “sing-along” days – make most of the cast come off as more rejects of Stepford than anything else.

While this may be for the kids’ benefit, a lot of viewers may find them all a waste of time – especially since no reason for their kooky behavior is ever put forth.

And then there’s the special effects. While some fo them – like the underground city itself, is decently done, others seem just a waste of space – including a ridiculous squid-like monster that stalks the tunnels but everybody fails to mention, despite repeated attacks. This monster, while decently fleshed out by the special effects people – serves no real purpose in the film at all, and seems to be something thrown in to appease viewers who have been clamoring for a Tremors remake (all 2 of them) and nobody else.

With it’s subplots that peter out into nothingness, and other subplots that don’t seem to have a beginning or end – just a middle – City of Ember has lost most of it’s charm by the time it reaches it’s conclusion. Thankfully, however, that conclusion – which involves, among other things, a rather ingenious Rube Goldberg-ian type of device and a striking reminder of the very different life these people have been living – helps save the film from total annihilation.

While some sequences do get a bit dull and uninteresting, the appearances of recognizable faces every once in a while should get viewers to the end – which, while not entirely worth the journey, should leave most viewers satisfied.

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