City of Ember

Starring: Starring Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, B. J. Hogg and Martin Landau. Directed by Gil Kenan
Rating: Rated G

Where or what is the city of Ember?  It is a city from a fantasy novel by Joanne Deprau, a city under the earth built to last 200 years to protect survivors from a dying world.  The 200 years are now up and the inhabitants of Ember have lost the knowledge of how they are to live on.  Ember is running down and collapsing.

This is the stuff of science fantasy and futuristic tales.  It seems to be aimed at the younger audience but adults fond of this genre may well enjoy it.

The sets are immediately striking – and the whole city was built on a wharf in Belfast that saw the building of the Titanic (the real one, not James Cameron’s!).  There is the town square, the mayor’s palatial offices, dingy houses and half empty shops, a greenhouse for vegetables and the vast pipeworks and the generator which keeps the city going but is breaking down more frequently.  There is always something for the eye in the film.

Children are the heroes of City of Ember, two teenagers, one a girl who is a messenger (phones have long disappeared), the other a pipeworks technician.  Together, they are able to discover what is happening and solve the mysteries and search for safety and a future.  This takes them into vast realms under the city, a river and a waterway and a climb to the surface.

The film-makers have assembled an impressive cast.  Saoirse Ronan (from Atonement and Death Defying Acts) is a strong-minded messenger.  Harry Treadaway is the technician.  And there are quite a few adult stars including Bill Murray doing his thing as a seemingly nice and patriotic mayor, Toby Jones as his fawning assistant, Tim Robbins as an eccentric scientist, father of the hero, and Martin Landau as an ancient worker who is narcoleptic.  Add in British Liz Smith, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Mackenzie Crook and you have a quality cast list.

There are plenty of themes for those who like to work on the interpretation of this kind of fantasy, themes of light and darkness, themes of authority and freedom, themes of fear and hope as well as forces for good and forces for evil.

Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands) wrote the screenplay. Director Gil Kenan made the fine animated story Monster House and shows again his flair for exciting the imagination.

Icon  Out December 11

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.