May 2, 2009

[Movies] City of Ember (2008)

City of EmberWith the success of the Harry Potter franchise, Hollywood has been looking high and low for the next big cash cow. Thus this has triggered a review of all existing young adult fiction, thus resulting in movies like The Golden Compass and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events and even The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising, which really could have been a lot better. Oh, throw in The Spiderwick Chronicles and Bridge to Terbithia. Sorry, I'll stop listing now.

It has certainly helped spark interest in reading, which I suppose is a good thing, but it has also resulted in some authors getting into the young adult genre just to create a series that has a high potential of becoming the next Hollywood masterpiece. Seriously, the same thing happened during the height of the John Grisham movies and even Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park phase.

So yeah, I tend to approach future book or movie ventures of this nature with a certain degree of caution.

City of Ember is yet another such venture of a young adult book turned into a movie. It came out with little fanfare since it was a pretty direct story without the complications of religious protests against it or stuff of that nature. Despite trepidations, I watched the movie and was definitely surprised with how things turned out.

The City of EmberImage via Wikipedia

The plot alone was pretty interesting. For some reason, mankind had to escape a global catastrophe by creating an underground city to shelter those that would become the seed population of man's future. In order to ensure they could eventually return to the surface world, instructions on how to return were locked in a special box that would remain sealed for about 200 years - long enough for things on the surface to return to normal and thus safe for human habitation.

Fast forward to the present day in the City of Ember and things aren't looking good. The food stores have begun to run low on supplies and power blackouts are increasingly common. Much knowledge and technology has been lost over the years and it does not seem like the residents of Ember will be able to survive much longer given how everything in the city has begun to fall apart. Two children by the name of Doon and Lina discover the lost box and go on to try and figure out what it means.

The movie certainly fulfilled that quasi-steampunk part of my consciousness in terms of look and feel. While they hadn't been sent all the way back to the steam age, the inconsistency of their electric generators has certainly limited their dependence on electrical devices and thus a renewed focus on more mechanical solutions instead.

The story feels like a good-natured adventure / mystery story. You have a very straightforward quest for the two protagonists to follow and yet it's not an immediately obvious solution that leaves both the kids and the audience guessing to a limited degree. You have a conspiracy of sorts trying to work against their efforts but not of the overly sophisticated nature such that it's too difficult to overcome (or unrealistic for kids to do so).

Sure, the story has some plot problems that really are forgivable and as with any book-to-film translation, some elements were changed or altered to make it more "marketable" or something. I can't really speak on that last subject with any authority since I never read the original book. However, the movie was good enough for me to want to read the books, and that says a lot about the quality of the film making involved here.

It may be a children's movie by definition, but science fiction enthusiasts both young and old may find this as enjoyable as I did. One has to admit that it's a rather good story and the film itself was excuted pretty well. I just wish I had seen it in the theater in order to better appreciate what the director wanted to accomplish as you watch the movie huddled in the dark with other movie-goers like it was meant to be seen.

By now it should be widely available on video or perhaps even on TV. It's worth putting aside time for it, most definitely.

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