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  Publicity Stills of "City of Ember"
(Courtesy of Shaw)

Genre: Adventure/Children
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
Rating: PG
Official Website: http://www.cityofember.com

Opening Day: 27 November 2008


For 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.

Movie Review:

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 round belly.

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".

Movie Rating:

(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


. Nim's Island (2008)

. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)

. The Spiderwick Chronicles (2007)

. The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep (2007)

. The Golden Compass (2007)

. Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (2007)

. The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (2007)

. Bridge To Terabithia (2007)

. Charlotte's Web (2006)

. The Chronicles of Narnia (2005)

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