Smoulders but Never Burns
"City of Ember" wants to be a futuristic family adventure movie, as a post apocalypse civilization beneath the Earth's surface find time is running out and two young friends attempt to find a way out. And in fairness it has all the ingredients needed, stunning sets, a nice back story plus mystery but it is missing a certain ingredient. That ingredient can be summed up as storytelling because whilst it has it all it doesn't come together in a way which grabs your attention and whisks you on this exciting, fantastic adventure. And if I told you that for the first 75 minutes not a great deal happens and then suddenly we get some real excitement hopefully you will see it is also out of balance.
With civilization as we know it coming to an end, leaders and scientists create a city deep beneath the Earth's surface called Ember where mankind can carry on. And they leave instructions for how civilization can return to the surface in a special secure box which will open 200 years in the future. Unfortunately over the years the box ends up misplaced and now over 200 years since Ember was created they are on the verge of destruction as the generator is failing fast. It is up to two young inhabitants Doon (Harry Treadaway) and Lina (Saoirse Ronan - I Could Never Be Your Woman) to try and unravel the clues and find a way out and back to the surface.
There are a lot of positives to "City of Ember" and the simple storyline about this population of people living in the City of Ember over 200 years after mankind was wiped out on the surface is good. There is a nice build up to it as we see the scientists place instructions in a secure box which we see being misplaced as the years past. And the whole state of Ember now with regular power outs as the generator struggles creates a good basis.
Then with this being a family adventure we have two likeable characters in Lina and Doon who we meet on assignment day, and almost Harry Potter-esque day where they learn what jobs they will have now they have grown up. Doon and Lina are easy to follow, one is caring the other wants to save the day and so they make for a good duo. Throw in a lot of other characters from Bill Murray as a fat cat mayor, Tim Robbins as Doon's inventive father and also old timers Liz Smith and Martin Landau in supporting roles and we have a nice selection of characters.
And then there are the sets and in many ways the sets used in "City of Ember" are the best thing about the movie. They look detailed and expansive with areas which seem to go on and on. Combine that with inventive clues and mechanical systems and it has the perfect look for adventure movie.
But here is my problem because "City of Ember" is a family adventure movie where we watch Doon and Lina find clues, go down dark corridors, unlock a way to get out which involves old mechanical equipment and much more. Basically think "Indiana Jones" or "National Treasure" and you will have an idea as to the sort of stuff which goes on for are two young protagonists. But unfortunately it fails to grab you and take you on this wonderful adventure, struggling to get you excited by the rollercoaster ride of danger.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "City of Ember" has all the ingredients to be a great family adventure movie it never really delivers the excitement it hopes for. In a strange way it is perfect as an introduction to adventure movies for young children but fails for anyone older.