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|City of Ember
dir Gil Kenan
scr Caroline Thompson
with Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Murray, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook, Martin Landau, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Mary Kay Place, Liz Smith, Amy Quinn, Catherine Quinn
release US/UK 10.Oct.08
08/UK Walden 1h35
There must be some kind of way out of here: Treadaway and Ronan
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
The filmmakers create an enveloping world in this fantasy adventure set in the distant future. It's an engaging story with strong characters that keep our interest even with the slightly too-fantastical design and under-explained script.
In the deep underground city of Ember, where humanity has been recuperating for more than 200 years, two teens, Lina (Ronan) and her neighbour Doon (Treadaway), have just begun their work assignments as a messenger and pipeworks engineer, respectively. But both stumble into information that there may be a way out of Ember, which is considered heresy in this society. As they pursue the clues, they get encouragement from Doon's inventor dad (Robbins) and the greenhouse keeper (Jean-Baptiste), but need to keep an eye out for the greedy mayor (Murray) and his officious assistant (Jones).
Based on the novel by Jeanne Duprau, the film creates a full-blown Dr Seuss-like universe, complete with historical legends, community ceremonies and the details of how they try to keep their city running even though they're running out of supplies. The design is utterly ingenious, with its busy, crowded feel and endless small touches. It feels like a Jeunet & Caro extravaganza, but tinged with a preciousness they never indulged in (think The City of Lost Children made for the Disney Channel).
An edge is added only by the rather over-qualified cast. Ronan and Treadaway are terrific as the central heroes, giving full-bodied performances far beyond the requirements of the script. We really feel their growing curiosity and inner yearning to understand the mystery they stumble into. And around them, a veteran cast of scene-stealers are simply terrific on screen, adding little bits of business here and there to keep our eyes darting around the screen.
There's a lot of serious stuff going on under the surface, most notably story elements that hint at global warming, the oil crisis and fear-mongering governments. These things keep us interested even as the script fails to answer some key questions (like why the insects and rodents are so enormous, a question Doon actually asks on-screen). But what lingers is the challenging personal dilemma: do you patch what's falling apart, pretend nothing's wrong, or venture out and find a world-changing solution that's way off the grid?
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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