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City of Ember


Great thing about kids, they’ll believe just about anything you tell them.Once when I was little I pointed at a water tower and asked my mom what it was.She told me they kept horses up there.For years I wondered how in the world they got the horses up the ladder.

I mention this because “City of Ember” is filled with implausibilities, impossibilities and inconsistencies (my favorite:after a death-defying ride down a series of waterfalls in a boat the size and shape of a coffin, the exit cavern is filled with signs that say “No pushing!”“Please carry babies carefully!”)I spent the first twenty minutes of the movie noting all of these things, and then realized: this is a kid’s movie, and kids just aren’t going to care.They probably won’t even notice, unless a cynical adult like me sits beside them and ruins the movie for them.Besides, nothing here is as ridiculous as a talking Chihuahua.

“City of Ember” takes place 200 years after some kind of apocalyptic event has made the surface of the Earth unlivable.A group of wise and kind (and mostly white male) scientists gathered on the eve of Doomsday and built a city far underground where humanity could live out the fallout.And they gave them a box with a 200-year timer on it, containing instructions on how to return to the surface once it’s safe.

But a lot can happen in 200 years.The box gets lost, the people forget there is a surface, the food supply begins to run short, and the generator begins to die.Bill Murray is the mayor of Ember, and the main goal of his administration seems to be that everyone be singing songs and smiling when the lights go out for good.Murray is clearly having fun with this role, while not really committing to it; when he declares to the people “we need more than answers to our questions, we need solutions!”I had visions of a different Commander in Chief.

The film centers on two kids who go against the flow by being curious, stubborn, resourceful, and genuinely worried about what the future holds.Orphaned Saoirse Ronan (who you’ll remember as Briony in last year’s “Atonement) looks about twelve, has a mischievous four-year-old sister and a granny who knows more than she remembers.Harry Treadaway looks about fifteen, thinks he can fix the generator if he can just get close enough to it, and has a father (Tim Robbins) with a secret past who talks in riddles.Around them are a pretty amazing supporting cast, including Toby Jones, Martin Landau, and Mackenzie Crook. “City of Ember” sort of plays out like a cross between “Spy Kids” and Indiana Jones; the kids are given grownup jobs, but spend most of their time trying to read faded old maps, decipher riddles and discover secret rooms that aren’t on any map.It’s clearly up to them to save the world, as most of the adults have either given up or are feverishly attending to their blissful ignorance.It moves along pretty smoothly, is not too terribly predictable, and ends with a satisfying payoff.All things I can’t really say about the last “Spy Kids” or “Indiana Jones” movies.

The production design clearly took some time and energy, but doesn’t really break any new ground in the world of fantastic, post-apocalyptic cityscapes. Ember looks like a cross between Dark City and a brownstone complex in Brooklyn in the ‘50s, and never really approaches the creativity of a movie like “City of Lost Children.”But here we are talking again about things kids won’t really care about.

I wonder if “City of Ember” is an accurate portrayal of how kids today are feeling.With all the news swirling around them about things that can hardly understand – the failing economy, global warming, the uncertain future – do they look at adults and wonder why we’re not doing more?If so, I hope they will see “City of Ember” and model themselves after the heroes therein – kids who are relentlessly curious, deeply resourceful, who care about their families and the future and are not about to let some apathetic grownups tell them that all hope is lost and to simply mind their own business until the lights go out.I’d much rather have my (theoretical) kids copying the Ember kids than quoting the wisecrack lines of a talking Chihuahua.


  • For kids 7-14, especially those who like to read, explore, and ask questions.
  • For the parents of those kids, who often look at movie marquees with dismay.
  • For fans of the fantastic, richly detailed cityscapes in movies like “Dark City,” “City of Lost Children,” and “Blade Runner.”

Not Recommended

  • If you saw the trailer, and, like I did, thought this was going to be dark, weird sci fi.
  • If you can’t help but point out everything implausible in a sci fi adventure.

“City of Ember” is playing at the High Five Theater here in Durango.Inexplicably, it plays once a day – at 9:15 pm.There were two other people in the theater when I saw it.Everyone else who might want to see it had undoubtedly already been put to bed.It was a school night, after all.


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