DVD Review: ‘City of Ember’ with Bill Murray Never Flickers to Life

There is no good reason City of Ember isn’t a more exciting movie with the stellar cast it features: Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Martin Landeau, and others, but City of Ember never flickers to life.
The idea behind City of Ember is relatively novel and intriguing: when some disaster has doomed the surface of Planet Earth an entire city is built underground where the last remnant of humanity has lived for two centuries. The Builders left them a generator designed to last 200 years, a
vast cache of supplies, greenhouses, buildings, and a civilization run by a succession of mayors.
Instructions are also left to help the residents return to the surface after 200 years when it is assumed the planet will be habitable again. But something happens as the leaders pass the instructions from one mayor to the next, and the instructions as well as any knowledge of them pass out of memory.
Two hundred years pass, and not only are the food supplies running low, but also the generator starts to fail, plunging the decrepit city into longer spells of darkness.
Bill Murray plays the city of Ember’s gluttonous, self-centered mayor, who is stockpiling the dwindling food supplies for himself, and he and his goons are the closest we get to villains.
Supposedly there are huge creatures roaming in the dark outside the city of Ember. A gigantic, weird-looking mole is seen a couple of times threatening the citizens of Ember. Scary? Not so much, except it might be a little scary for young children. A large piece of a beetle is found, but except for the mole monster and a large moth, no other interesting subterranean creatures are seen.
Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) and Lina Mayfleet (Academy Award-nominee Saoirse Ronan) are the two heroic teens who must unravel the mystery of the City of Ember before their world is lost. There are a lot of scenes of the heroine, Lena, trying to piece together some instructions she finds and dealing with her crazy, yarn-stringing, couch destroying grandmother in City of Ember.
In fact, City of Ember sometimes gets bogged down in scenes that don’t really help advance the plot much. Some scenes appear to be more interested in creating the next big ride at Disney World than in moving the story along. City of Ember is definitely aimed at a young audience, and in a sense, the lack of excitement and fear is a good thing for young children. However, City of Ember seems to have been aimed at teens, and I’m not sure teens would find it much more exciting than I did.
And what Hollywood fare would be complete without a religion-bashing scene or two? Some of the sheep-like residents of Ember mouth such drivel as, “Who built this city? That’s right, the Builders, and they will return one day…” Obviously, Christians and other religious folk would prefer to spend their time singing, mouthing platitudes, and waiting for the Builders to return than in taking any action when the city is falling own around them. Darn those religious nuts!
City of Ember is not a bad movie, but it simply never gets very exciting and doesn’t live up to the possibilities that such an interesting plot and good cast should have brought to the screen.
The set for City of Ember is kind of cool, and the movie is family friendly and moderately entertaining. City of Ember is relatively harmless fare for kids and would probably be exciting for young ones. I do wonder what kind of subliminal message young ones pick up, however, when shown the stupidity of people who believe in and wait upon a Master Builder to return.
The City of Ember DVD was released on January 20, 2009.
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