City of Ember

Ignorance may occasionally be bliss but often it can come with a price.  The desire to go about daily life whilst appointed authorities do the ‘dirty work’ of societal functionality is a notion City of Ember’s characters take to heart.  Produced by the increasingly ubiquitous Walden Media group, this children’s book adaptation attempts to craft an almost grim fairy tale.  Not reaching any great heights it does at least hold the attention with some arresting scenery.
Ember is a city in a state of decay.  Housed deep in the earth’s core, the self contained bunker was built to last for 200 years after a cataclysmic disaster made the surface unliveable.  Unfortunately decades after the bi-centennial anniversary, the city is near collapse with the ancient machinery on the point of destruction.  The city’s corrupt Mayor Cole (Bill Murray) assures his people everything is fine, but two youngsters called Lina (Saoirse Ronan) and Doon (Harry Treadaway) know better.  Discovering an ancient text given them clues leading to a way out, they eventually learn that knowledge is the natural friend of survival.
City of Ember endeavours to tap into the notion of a child’s desire for constant discoveries.  Whilst its adult citizens exist in a vacuum of information apathy, Ember’s young elite still have enough of an inquisitive mind to question what they’re told.  Wrapped within a ‘great escape’ scenario, the film has its moments without being a satisfying whole.  This is mainly due to the awkward delivery of its story elements in what is chiefly an engaging concept.  Due to some sluggish pacing, the first act fails to truly integrate the viewer into its world with a  fairly routine climax rushed through too quickly.  This robs the story of any tension with the crucial sense of wonder and danger never materialising.
Its best aspect is the rustic industrialism of a production design recalling Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’.  Almost totalitarian in nature, this facilitates a lot of the ambiance missing from some much needed character development.  Ronan and Treadaway make fine leads, however they seem a little old to fully convince as pre-adolescent children.  Better is the veteran cast including Tim Robbins, Martin Landau and a waspish Bill Murray who seems to have the most fun.  It’s pleasing also that the children have to use their wits to assemble the clues rather than having simple solution giving them an easy way out.
As an entertainment for undemanding pre-schoolers it works reasonably well, although more mature viewers may soon tire of its lack of momentum.  The eye catching visuals nearly make up for a story showing that staying in tune with one’s surroundings can prove beneficial over those proclaiming to be all knowing oracles.
Rating out of 10:  5

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