City of Ember, based on the 2003 book by Jeanne DuPrau, is the newest example of a brand new genre: post-apocalyptic kid’s flicks. Following hot on the heels of WALL-E, the Pixar cartoon about a robot in charge of cleaning up a deserted, dead Earth, City of Ember is another dark vision of an underground world solely reliant on one failing energy source (sound familiar?) that plays like a cross between a subterranean Nancy Drew’s Passport to Danger and Blade Runner.
At the beginning of the film, once again humans have destroyed Earth. In order to save mankind a group of forward thinking scientists—known as “the builders”— create a self-sufficient underground world, with the ultimate plan that after 200 years people would return to the surface and start again. Of course over time their plans get lost, only to be discovered, decaying and damaged, by twelve-year-old Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan), the great-great-great grand daughter of the seventh Mayor of Ember. With the help of Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) she must escape the clutches of the corrupt Mayor (Bill Murray) and find a way to the surface before Ember is plunged into darkness forever.
Think of City of Ember as Terry Gilliam lite. It breathes the same air as Brazil, his post-apocalypse masterpiece, but has had many of the rougher edges smoothed out to appeal to a teen audience. It features Disney-esque mild action, strong female role-models and engaging performances, particularly from Murray as the crooked Mayor and Atonement’s Saoirse Ronan, who is a natural in front of the camera. Best of all, the crumbling together city is beautifully rendered as a nightmarish vision of the future, complete with tilting tenement buildings, a giant gold generator that looks borrowed from the movie Metropolis and lots of futuristic grime and rust.
City of Ember drags a bit in its final moments, not really building the head of steam necessary to give the climax the edge-of-your-seat feel it should have, but it ends on a poetic note and should please the whole family from teenagers on up.
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