Director: Gil Kenan
Cast: Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Saoirse Ronan,
Harry Treadaway, Martin Landau, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Toby
Jones, Mary Kay Place, Lucinda Dryzek, B.J. Hogg
RunTime: 1 hr 35 mins
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: http://www.cityofember.com
Opening Day: 27 November 2008
generations, the people of the City of Ember have flourished
in an amazing world of glittering lights. But Ember's once
powerful generator is failing... and the great lamps that
illuminate the city are starting to flicker. Now, two teenagers
in a race against time, must search Ember for clues that will
unlock the ancient mystery of the city's existence, and help
the citizens escape before the lights go out forever.
It has been a while since I last saw a live-action teen adventure
film in a modern setting which has nothing to do with magic
or mystical creatures. One of the best films of this genre
that I can think of is 1985's "The Goonies" starring
Sean Astin (Sam the hobbit from "The Lord of the Rings")
and Josh Brolin (Llewelyn Moss from "No Country for Old
Men") in their younger days. There isn't any wizardry
or sword-fighting to be seen, just a simple story of a group
of kids on a treasure hunt. Aside from providing a fun-filled
adventure, it also has an assortment of interesting protagonists
whom we can connect with. Since its release, it has become
a yardstick for other teen adventure movies. With "City
of Ember" arriving in cinemas in time for the school
holidays, I was hoping it can be the current era's equivalent
of "The Goonies".
Based on Jeanne Duprau's novel "The City of Ember",
the film takes us to a world where people have been living
in an underground city known as the City of Ember for 200
years to seek shelter from a disaster that is not clarified,
but judging from the appearances of giant mutated animals
and insects, one can safely assume it is a nuclear fallout.
With the food supply getting scarce and the generators beginning
to fail, the people's survival is threatened. Their fate depends
on two teenagers, Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan) and Doon Harrow
(Harry Treadaway), who happen to discover an escape route
to venture out of the city. Meanwhile, the city's corrupt
mayor, Cole (Bill Murray) has other ideas underneath his big
As it turns out, great expectation can yield great disappointment.
Not to say that "City of Ember" is a bad film, it
is still passable entertainment by all means but not excellent.
It has a little of everything: character development, action
and excitement. And this is its major problem - a little of
everything. The film slowly builds its momentum to reach the
point where the two protagonists (three if you count Poppy,
Lina's younger sister who is more intelligent than she looks)
start their escape from the city. Despite the slow buildup,
we are given barely enough time to get to know the main characters,
thus making it difficult for viewers to feel for them as they
proceed with their adventure.
The visuals and set design though are lavishly produced, with
the colour of ember, rightfully so given the city's name,
being the motif. Bright lights shine throughout the city in
contrast to the darkened pipes area that serves as the integral
backdrop to the later part of the story. Equally astounding
are the creature effects that bring a certain creepy rodent
to life which constantly provides danger to our heroes. All
these come courtesy of the production team which also took
part in "Chronicles of Narnia" and "Journey
to the Centre of the Earth", so at least there is an
assurance of quality in the visuals.
The film is clearly Saoirse Ronan's vehicle to the mainstream
film market after her previous appearance in the British drama
"Atonement". She does a great job in portraying
Lina as a fleshed out character. On the other hand, Harry
Treadaway seems rather average in his role as Doon as he meets
the minimum requirements of an action hero. Pitifully, Bill
Murray is severely underused here. I was hoping to see him
in his usual sarcastic and cynical best as the main villain,
but aside from some mildly nasty comments towards Lina, there
isn't much for him to deliver. The other recognizable names,
Tim Robbins and Martin Landau are purely on hand as supporting
characters in the form of Doon's father and Doon's supervisor
with a sleeping problem respectively.
"City of Ember" is a case of wasted opportunity,
especially so with the acclaimed talent available in front
and behind the camera (Tom Hanks being one of its producers).
Despite the pleasing visuals, it leaves a lot to be desired
in the action department. By the time it shifts into high
gear and sets your adrenalin pumping, it is over too quickly.
I guess it will take another wait before I can see a worthy
successor to "The Goonies".
(A roller coaster ride that gradually brings you to
the peak but goes down so fast for that brief moment of excitement,
you end up feeling shortchanged)
Review by Tan Heng Hau