City of Ember (2008) Gil Keenan

Production Budget: $55 million
Worldwide Gross: $17 million

I have never seen a movie made with so much money yet given absolutely no advertising.  I saw exactly one poster for this movie at my local theater.  But I saw no theatrical teasers/trailers, television teasers/trailers, newspaper ads, internet banners, anything!  A movie has to be pretty embarrassing to get so little press.  Even sh*tty movies like Battlefield Earth got more press.  Apparently this movie is based off of a very popular and intelligent children’s book of the same name.

The plot is about an underground city which is built in response to an end of civilization cataclysm (which is unmentioned whether its war, famine, global warming etc.).  Anyway, the inhabitants of the city are only supposed to be in the city for 200 years.  After that point, the equipment keeping the city going would start to break down.  So they give the leader of the city a box which contains instructions on how to populate the Earth after 200 years (the box is time locked to open after 200 years).  The problem is the box is lost somewhere along the way and the citizens of the city keep going with their normal routine not knowing the city was only a temporary measure.  Its up to two children to find the secrets of the City of Ember.

This movie is kind of a combination of a few movies.  For one, it kind of has the environmental theme of say Wall E.  While at the same time it wants to be a Goonies type kids adventure.  The movie fails though in executing in either of the two.  I believe that the book is a more subtle and has more intelligent metaphors (hence why it is so popular).  The movie (as is mostly the case with adaptations) can’t handle all the intricacies of the book.  Instead we get very broad strokes on environmentalist themes.  We, like the citizens of Ember, are headed toward a cliff with our environmental policies and we continue with the status quo.  I get it.  It doesn’t help that Bill Murray is essentially playing a Bush clone.

As for the adventure portion of the movie it is very bland and uninteresting.  What is really odd is the main thrust of the narrative is the children trying to uncover the big secret behind the City of Ember.  But we already know what it is.  They tell us in the first five minutes.  So, we are following along and the kids are discovering clues and it really seems like they are going for “wow” revelations but its not like that because we already know the whole story.  Its rather odd.  Its like a movie that was designed around a twist but its spoiled for you as you walk into the theater.  Its like if there was an opening narration for Soylent Green that said “In the year 20XX, there was a new food created to feed the starving overpopulated masses.  The food was made from people, but that was kept secret from the public.  And now, a police officer will discover that secret…”

The acting is fine.  The child actors are surprisingly good.  Bill Murray is wasted, and veterans like Tim Robbins and Walter Matthau are given nothing to work with.

Overall it just feels like I’m missing out on the real fun of the book.  Even though I haven’t read it I can tell this is like a Cliff’s Notes abridged version with the basic plot elements, but nothing of what made it truly special.  Yet another bland entry in the box office bomb thread.  Its fine enough, and in terms of children’s movies its worth recommending over a lot of the crap that’s produced.  But for anyone over the age of 8 its a big fat “meh”.

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