City of Ember - A Wonderfully Entertaining Adventure!
by Alex Billington
October 11, 2008
I want to take this moment today to talk about one of my new favorite movies. It's very rare that I find a children's movie, or even a PG movie, that isn't pointlessly fast-paced and annoyingly over-the-top. But today I discovered a movie that not only entertained me to the fullest extent, but was a PG-rated kids adventure movie. City of Ember is easily one of the best family adventure films I've seen in a few years that is as thoroughly entertaining as it is an immense achievement for director Gil Kenan. I'm utterly surprised that more people aren't heading out in droves this weekend to see this magnificent film!
Based on Jeanne Duprau's book, City of Ember takes place in a subterranean city built to protect people from the chaos above and house a new generation of human beings. In 200 years time, they were supposed to emerge, but the instructions on how to leave were lost over time. Now the underground city lit by thousands of glowing light bulbs, powered by an enormous generator and lead by a stubborn and selfish mayor (Bill Murray), is falling apart and doomed to darkness unless two kids, Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) and Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan), can solve the mystery.
So why is it so good? First and foremost, a fantasy adventure flick like this needs a very distinct and original style. City of Ember's originality really shines through in Kenan's ability to create such a vivid and realistic setting in which the entire film takes place. He wonderfully crafts a world that left me so full of fascination and pure childlike joy, that I can't wait to revisit this just to search for all the small details hidden within every aspect of the production, from the set to the props to the costumes. It didn't matter how many cinematic tools (or how much money) Kenan had at his disposal, because he still created an entire world that even rivaled the one Jerry Bruckheimer funded in Pirates of the Caribbean.
All too often children's movies these days rush every last scene in order to keep the attention of today's distracted youth. City of Ember was able to still do that, but function like an evenly paced adventure story that allows us enough time to soak up the stunning surroundings without getting bored. And that's on top of giving us two of the brightest young characters to follow and a story full of enough mystery to even keep me intrigued. I honestly haven't been this wrapped up in an family adventure story like this in so long, and it was such an extraordinary experience to be able to enjoy it once again.
Beyond all of Kenan's great production work, I found myself entirely entranced by the story in City of Ember. Not only was I rooting for the two kids all the way through to the end, but it's a far more mature story than most might image. There is never any specific dialogue or mention of what happened to the world above ground, but there are enough inferences regarding the size of bugs (hint, hint) and other small details, that adults can put the pieces together anyway. And the questions I did have, like what was beyond the edges of the city, were only coming up because I was so mesmerized by the story.
The only weaknesses in this entire film were those that I've heard other critics mention as well. Mainly that Bill Murray was a poor casting choice who didn't bring anything unique to the role and that a few of the scenes felt like they were cut short due to issues with its running time, but that's about it. Obviously I can't compare this to The Dark Knight, or any of my other favorite films from the past few years, but it's easy to say that it definitely surpassed any expectations I did have. It deserves more attention than it's getting and I hope those of us who do love this movie speak out about it so that others might seek it out as well.
There is so much to enjoy in City of Ember, that I'm certain most moviegoers of all ages will love it as much as I did. I'm already excited to jump into the adventure again and experience it from start to finish for a second time (and maybe a third). It's already one of my favorite movies that I will revisit often over the next few years. Gil Kenan deserves great praise for creating such a wonderfully imaginative and hugely entertaining family adventure movie. Just don't forget to actually go see City of Ember!
Reader Feedback - 19 Comments
The films on target to have a $2.5 million opening weekend as it grossed an awful 900,000 on Friday. Sept and Oct are not kind to many films.
entertainmenttodayandbeyond.com on Oct 11, 2008
Wow, I had a feeling this might be better than expected. I certainly want to see it.
tzarinna on Oct 11, 2008
You know, Walden Media has been surprising us with deep films that are "children's movies." "Bridge to Terabithia" (though with its flaws) is one of my faves. Maybe "City of Ember" is like it? It's made for kids, with a very profound story? Hmm. Will go see this one.
R. on Oct 11, 2008
Yo Alex, Atleast mention that this is a FOX movie. They have made an awesome fantasy flick. Ya they suck but give them credit where it is due.
Jojo on Oct 11, 2008
i'm shocked. i thought this movie would be atleast a 7 out of 10
darrin on Oct 11, 2008
This looks like a really good film from the trailer and the review, shame about Bill Murray, but the clockwork futurism draws me in every time...
Crapola on Oct 11, 2008
Will, there's a reason it's not grossing much... they film isn't that good. Alex was seriously hopped up on goofballs or something when he saw this, because it has enormous plot holes, a terrible ending, badly done CGI, and deviates so far from the book that they should have called it something else. Blurgh.
Kevin Kelly on Oct 11, 2008
I hope this beats out that annoying dog...
Peloquin on Oct 11, 2008
I seen this movie last night. Its boring, for adults and children I know for a fact. It does have plot holes and an anticlimatic ending.
ooten on Oct 11, 2008
@3: You're right. "Bridge to Terabithia" was a great movie. I expected nothing from it, but it really surprised me. @4: You have to distinguish between producer and distributor of a movie. This movie wasn't produced by Fox. Maybe Fox distributes it in some countries, but they create make it.
Marc on Oct 11, 2008
Isnt Fred from YouTube supposed to make a cameo in this movie for advertising it?
cheater on Oct 11, 2008
I thought the movie was disappointing. Lame FX. Major plot WTF?! Unanswered questions which should have been answered. It wasn't something special, but it could have been. 4/10
Leland Rogers on Oct 11, 2008
Since Keenan made Monster House, I'll definitely be checking it out. Although after that kind of opening weekend, I doubt it will make cinemas here in Australia.
Joel on Oct 12, 2008
Nice to know that the poster didn't kill the movie, Alex. 🙂
Chris C. on Oct 12, 2008
I just saw it today and loved it. Yeah, it deviated from the book quite a bit, but I don't think it was too bad at all. It reminded me of all the adventure type movies I loved from when I was young, like Hook or Jumanji. Just a good, fun movie.
Kendra on Oct 12, 2008
I took my 13 year old daughter to see this film at the weekend and we both loved both the story and the stunning visuals. I didn't expect anything from this film and was completely taken in by the unfolding events. I've seen many films over the years and this one took me right back to what cinema is all about.
Alan H on Oct 21, 2008
fun movie, family enjoyed it all together... but was frustrated at the very prompt climax and ending
Dusty on Oct 22, 2008
This was pretty good, I really liked the score too.
tzarinna on Oct 27, 2008
Really, an awesome film. 😀
Louise Linh on Apr 18, 2009
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