Making an artistically valuable film is difficult. Most movies manage to have some level of cinematic worth, weather it be in the visuals, the story, cinematography, musical score, acting or any number of inherently necessary elements. It is asking far to much to demand perfection from any film, so the viewers (myself included) find themselves in a position to accept certain compromises. The biggest compromises allowed are those associated with Children’s films. Somehow, the idea that if a movie is geared toward a younger audience it’s a free pass to skimp on quality. This has been a problem that, thankfully, has become increasingly lessened over the past few years, as studios realize the potential quality films have. A few years ago a movie was released that was largely ignored. City of Ember suffered from it’s fair share of flaws, namely people complained that there wasn’t enough action. However, what became more noticeable than it’s flaws were the solid set designs, costumes, acting and music that created an imaginative and vivid world.
The story is a familiar one, though perhaps not as common in the realm of Children’s films. The city of Ember was constructed 200 years before the majority of the movie took place. It’s a massive underground city in which humanity survived “the end of the world”. Instructions for how to return the population to the surface of the earth. The Dilemma arises with the instructions being lost, and the population of ember growing largely complacent with their abode under the surface. Lina Mayfleet (Soairse Ronan) and Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) are two young citizens that embark on an adventure to discover the truth about their mean-to-be-temporary home.
Though exaggerated and sometimes cartoon-like, the larger than life sets give the film a distinct and believable-to-the-movie artistic feel. The scale of the sets is equally impressive, giving the city an incredibly large, but still very claustrophobic atmosphere. The costumes and set decorations are also impeccably detailed for any film, let alone a children’s film. The toys that children play with and the worn and tattered clothing worn by all the citizens gives the feeling of a society comprised of hand me downs. It’s a, borderline, steam-punk visual feast; a reminder that their society is deteriorating, the limited resources are dwindling and soon they’ll need to move on or cease to be.
The performances given in the film were genuine and believable, if a little over-eager. Perhaps the strangest addition to the cast was Bill Murray as the mayor of Ember. While his part was crucial, it seemed like an odd casting choice. However the two protagonists embodied the characters of two young people living in a post apocalyptic bunker. The performances are enhanced through a score that accurately follows the emotional cues of the story and the actors.
All in all, City of Ember manages to create a somewhat standard children’s fantasy/adventure film with quality components. The criticism that the pacing is a little slow is accurate, but never on the point of boredom. The action sequences are few, however the world exploration is interesting enough on its own. This was a pretty big box office flop, which was far less than it deserved. Few live action movies aimed at this demographic take the time to incorporate the level of detail demonstrated here.