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!