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City of Ember - family and children's DVD / fantasy DVD review
CITY OF EMBER Rated PG by the MPAA curledupdvd.com rating: 4 stars
Actors: Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Murray, Martin Landau, Toby Jones
Director: Gil Kenan   Studio: 20th Century Fox
DVD release: 20 January 2009   Runtime: 95 min. (1 disc)
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, DVD-Video, Full Screen, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
DVD features: Audio tracks (Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround - English, Spanish, French), Subtitles (English, French, Spanish), Trailers, Labou, Angel Wars: The Messengers, Garfield's Pet Force

The family movie City of Ember is based of a book of the same name by Jeanne DuPrau. Ember is an underground city created by "The Builders" when the world came to an end 200 years prior. Now, after all this time, the city's supplies are running low and the generator is breaking down. In fear of starvation and utter darkness, two young heroes must find a way to save their people.

It is against the law to leave the city for Unknown Regions. But with the pipes, generator, and food all wearing out, running out, or just breaking. Therein lies all of the problems and fears to be dealt with one way or another. The older set all appear to be too afraid or too complacent, while the younger set fairly itches for change. When the generator literally goes up in flames and an infamous old box finds its way into Lina's (Saoirse Ronan) hands, she and Doon (Harry Treadaway) know the task of saving their little world has fallen to them. A death, a theft, and a scraggly map are all they have to set them on their adventure. At the risk of being branded traitors, the pair attempt to follow the incomplete plan laid out by The Builders, with Lina's little sister, Poppy (Amy and Catherine Quinn), along for the ride.

Tim Robbins and Bill Murray play their roles exceptionally well, but are outshined by the child stars of the movie. Treadaway is Doon Harrow, the boy determined to fix the generator for the good of his people. Ronan plays Lina Mayfleet, the young heroine who follows in her father's footsteps, becoming more and more convinced that there is a thriving world outside that she must find. She is serious and intelligent, making it easy to hope she succeeds. Even little Poppy, Lina's two-year-old sister, does her job well - Amy and Catherine Quinn bring adorable to a new level.

The visual impact of the movie is fantastic. It really does look like a two hundred-year-old city. Everything seems recycled and carefully rigged up with string or tape. Even the faces of the children look old and tired. The machinery is incredible, hissing pipes and huge grinding drive shafts. The movie watches much like an old point-and-click adventure game plays: little errands, clues, and pieces to put together at just the right time and in just the right place and all in just the right order. If all is done properly, with a little luck, some random breadcrumb might help the kids along on their adventure.

There is very little character development in the film, but the action and nearly immediate adventuring makes up for that. Both Lina and her friend Doon embody only a couple of main characteristics needed to further the story. It is a small, fish-eye view of their world, beginning when things are scary and breaking down, so there simply isn't a lot of time for get-to-know-ya chatter. Emotions run high through blackouts, chases and escapes, but then peter out unexpectedly at the very end. As the credits roll, we're left thinking, huh? When the same thing happens in other movies, sometimes the story is given a sense of completion through little images during the credits. No such happiness was given in City of Ember, simply leaving the story abrupt and woefully incomplete.

Somewhat like an updated Logan's Run (1976) for children, City of Ember fires the imagination and makes kids wonder just what will happen at the end of the world. With a backdrop of such an amazingly well-crafted city, it is easy to sink in and really feel the excitement and the fear. The acting was surprisingly mature. If only the ending had been a little more fulfilling, this would have been A+ movie.
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reviewed by Carolynn Evans
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