Friday, March 13, 2009

CITY OF EMBER: Kiddie-style 'Glade Runner'

CITY OF EMBER (fantasy adventure)
Starring: Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Saoirse Ronan, Martin Landau, Mackenzie Crook, Toby Jones, Mary Kay Place, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Harry Treadaway and Liz Smith

Director: Gil Kenan

Time: 92 mins

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

PREAMBLE: The first thing that strikes us about City Of Ember is its fabulous underground metropolis set a post-apocalypse future. The set designs are so detailed and realistic that we get the impression that more surprises are in store. Perhaps, this retro movie, adapted from Jeanne DuPrau’s novel, is some sort of Blade Runner for children. Alas, it soon becomes clear that the sets are the star of the show and the much awaited action only comes at the end of the movie...

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? On the thematic level, the movie is a warning against mankind's dependence on machinery and technology and forgetting their past. For 250 years, the city of Ember has been run by a generator. The generator is breaking down and no one seems to know how to repair it or build another one. Worse, no one knows anything about life beyond the city's walls. Blackouts occur daily, food is running out and giant bugs and moles are preying on the people.

Hope for salvation lies in two youngsters, Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan of Atonement fame) and Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) who have just started work as messenger and pipeworks mechanic, respectively. Lina and Doon soon learn that time is running out on Ember and they must solve the puzzle left by the city’s mythical Builders and find a way out of their problem.

HITS AND MISSES: While director Kenan takes his own sweet time showing off the wonderful sets (above) and the city's maze of sewers, pipes and tunnels, little is done in terms of plot development. Veteran stars like Martin Landau (as the sleepy Sul), Tim Robbins (as Doon's inventor dad) and Bill Murray (as Mayor Cole) help to flesh out their roles and provide star-power to the movie.

Ronan and Treadaway, who carry most of the movie, are credible enough but they have little to do other than run around the sets. Ditto that for Marianne Jean-Baptiste who plays Lina's friend Clary in brief appearances. Kenan seems to perk things up and shifts the action into overdrive at the end but it is too little too late.

THE LOWDOWN: OK, it's Glade Runner for kids.


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