City of EmberDirected by: Gil Kenan Cast: Harry Treadaway, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Martin Landau Time: 1 hr 35 mins Rating: PG
Plot: The people of Ember have been in a wondrous underground city for years, but now it's starting to fall apart and its city lights are beginning to flicker. It's up to two kids to figure out a way to solve the problem and escape from Ember. Based on the novel by Jeanne Duprau.
Who’s It For? The whole family. I know I sound like a billboard, but this is genuinely a film that will keep both kids and parents interested. The violence is minimal, mainly coming from a giant mole. Even if your little one is afraid of the dark this film won't traumatize them for life.
Expectations: I am always hopeful that a kids/family movie will do something beyond talking dogs (I'm looking at you Beverly Hills Chihuahua).
Actors: Harry Treadaway as Doon Harrow: Once I checked the credits I was sad to see it was "Doon" and not "Dune," but I digress. Treadaway looks like a kid, not a kid actor. This is a huge deal, because you completely buy into his desire to save the city of Ember, even if it means working in the pipes. It would have been nice to know where Doon's motivation came from, but the fact that he has it is enough to join him on his quest. Score: 7
Saoirse Ronan as Lina Mayfleet: She's precious. Ronan completely embodies the plucky character of Lina Mayfleet, a newly crowned messenger who loves to run. Plus, she has a little sister she looks after named Poppy. That means we have two Poppy's this weekend (the other character starring in Happy-Go-Lucky), I checked the odds ... it's 200,000:1. Pretty impressive. Score: 8
Bill Murray as Mayor Cole: Murray could do just about anything and I would line up to watch. Here he sports a huge gut as Mayor Cole, the man slowly trying to save himself instead of the city. It's a fantastic treat to get Murray in a film like this. Otherwise ordinary scenes (like the one where Murray tells the young people about their new jobs) would be easily forgotten instead of a highlight. Score: 8
Tim Robbins as Loris Harrow: Loris is more than just a crack-pot inventor, but really aren't all crack-pot inventors more than meet the eye? I wanted more. Loris (Doon's dad) is supposed to come off as inspiring to his son but it seems he's teasing him with information more than anything. Score: 5
Martin Landau as Sul: Everything was going great with Sul. He worked, he slept (at work), and he didn't know what he didn't know. Landau's mere presence raised the bar on this character, but he is part of the ordinary problem at the end. Sul's attempt to sacrifice himself to save the others has been done to death. Score: 6
Talking: Loris drops pearls of wisdom like "It's what you do with what you get," but if his goal is to get Doon to save Ember, he should have been more direct. Lina's naive when she goes to the Mayor's assistant looking for help, but this is a kid's movie, so it fits. Score: 6
Sights & Sounds: Poppy eating yarn or whatever else she can get her hands on is entertaining, but the true beauty of the film comes from the set design of the city. There is a hint (just a hint) of familiarity with it resembling the underrated Dark City. There are also some odd Wall-E looking robots, that are never explained, but I'll forgive it because I love films that have a future full of odd, makeshift contraptions and this film is full of them. Score: 8
OVERALL Big names can help. So, a family movie becomes much more when Robbins, Landau, Murray, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook, and Tom Hanks (as a producer) are involved. It's a great vision of a bleak future told with a winning spirit. Sure, the ending becomes a bit ordinary but it's definitely worth taking the family on a trip to the City of Ember. And I know this probably goes against the novel, but I really wish the beginning narration wasn't there. I would have loved to find out that Ember was actually on Earth, and I would have loved to know everything about the problems with the lost box. It would have added a great mystery to a good movie. Final Score: 7/10