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Harry visits the CITY OF EMBER and recommends it to the tourists!

A post-apocalyptic children’s film about the Morlock existence of humanity after… the big… whatever happened. That’s CITY OF EMBER. At no point do we know what year the world came to an end. Nor do we know what year the City of Ember was constructed or inhabited. We know from the pre-credit sequence that it seemed to have been made years before the end. The concept was that the people of Ember knew nothing of the outside world, so that when the outside world came to an end, they would not feel the loss for what was lost. For those in Ember, they worship the generator that gives them light, they each service the city which provides their existence. They have no choice for their place or purpose in life, it is a random drawing from a bag which dictates their purpose. It is a communal existence, seemingly without money or possessions. Nothing in this world seems from ours. It is wholly constructed from Ember. Be it the clothing, the style of buildings, the technology… nothing from our world is there. CITY OF EMBER isn’t an action film, nor is it a thrill-a-minute. It is frankly an atmosphere piece of science fiction, a fairy tale about life after the end of the world – and I adore it. I love that the future hope is in the hands of children, simply because they have not learned to simply accept their lot in life, yet. It’s a film that allows its story to unfold as a mystery found, rather than pursued. Clues that bump into making sense. Children that are taking their first days away from childhood – upon their Assignment Day – the day they find their purpose, two kids that are not happy with their initial assignments switch jobs with one another – and that sets everything into motion. Director Gil Kenan has two films to his credit, the thrillingly entertaining animated MONSTER HOUSE and this, his first live-action effort – which while still a children’s film – it is a complete 180 from the purpose and intent of MONSTER HOUSE. CITY OF EMBER is about teaching children to think for themselves, to question authority, to pursue the truth even at great risk and as a child of parents that gave me a QUESTION AUTHORITY shirt as a kid – I found CITY OF EMBER to be a fantastic film. The style and look of the film harkens back to German Expressionism and Machine Age design. The rebelling against the socialism government is thrilling – and I find myself wondering if the job of MAYOR is chosen at random as well. The lead children: Saoirse Ronan and Harry Treadaway are exceptional in the film. At no point do they sound or act like children of our day. No goofy exclamations, just a thirst for what it all means, a genuine concern for the future of their society and the courage to pursue the mystery they find themselves caught up in. In particular, Saoirse Ronan shines. We loved her in ATONEMENT and here in CITY OF EMBER she radiates intelligence and a moral outrage when she finds the corruption within her small town Mayor’s office. It seems even after the end of the world, political corruption is still a rule rather than an exception. The mayor of Ember is played by Bill Murray, who seems more concerned about stocking his private nest, than the good of the people – and his staff – headed by the fantastic Toby Jones is terrific. Kind, yet menacing. Then there’s the man that does the mayor’s dirty work of scavenging, Mackenzie Crook – a quirky fellow with a club foot and a taste for the younger ladies. (Nothing inappropriate is on screen, just inferred) Of the entire adult cast, my two faves are Martin Landau & Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Martin Landau – I like to think – is the prototypical citizen of Ember. He has his job in Pipeworks, he’s been doing it so long that he can remember or relate to scant else. He’s dying on his feet, doddering away patching a patch on a pipe that has been patched countless times and will need countless more. Then there’s Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s Clary, who is the gardener in this city somewhere inside the husk of our planet. She was once like Saorise’s Lina Mayfleet – dreaming of escaping Ember, but her revolutionary past ended in tragedy and left her and her friends unwilling to look further. CITY OF EMBER is a subtly frightening film. I know in the book, the mysteries were more of a word puzzle variety, and here they’ve been turned into more of a visual mystery. I’ve also seen some that complain about the strange over-sized critters that pop up – and question why they were added. For me, this helps to explain why the people of Ember don’t venture out into the darkness – and more so it adds to the creepiness. What has happened to the world that outsized creatures come from the darkness attracted by the light? What happened on the surface that these people were buried for 200 years? I’ve seen CITY OF EMBER a couple of times now – and I found the film stronger upon second viewing as there were so many details design wise to pick up on. Like the map, if you notice – it’s the same map from METROPOLIS. And the look of Ember is easier to take in after a once through. I think this is a film that will grow a bit in time. At the very least, it’s nice to see a children’s film that isn’t about farting, poop or potty mouths. But is rather about thinking children in dire situations. In many ways this film plays as a companion piece for WALL*E – a film that is vastly more entertaining, but is a stylistic and tonal cousin. That Hollywood chose Armageddon as a setting for children stories – even as the financial world seems to be falling apart… coincidence? Or premeditated? 2012 is getting closer.

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