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City of Ember

City of Ember

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2.5 out of 5

TOM Hanks was the driving force behind getting Jeanne DuPrau’s acclaimed novel City of Ember to the big screen and it’s a fascinating, if ultimately flawed, children’s sci-fi adventure.

Hanks serves as executive producer and, after recruiting Oscar nominated filmmaker Gil (Monster House) Kenan to direct, he’s also attracted a top-drawer cast, including Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Martin Landau and Atonement star Saoirse Ronan.

The result is never less than intriguing and boasts plenty of contemporary resonance, but ultimately squanders much of its early potential.

For generations, the people of the city of Ember have flourished in an amazing underground world of glittering lights. But all that’s about to change… for Ember has started to fall into darkness and its lights are beginning to flicker and fade.

Two teenagers – Doon (Harry Treadaway) and Lina (Ronan) – take it upon themselves to find a way out and begin piecing together the clues that may lead to humanity’s salvation. But their efforts fall foul of Ember’s greedy mayor (Bill Murray) and they face a race against time to evade capture and some of the over-sized beasts that pop in and out.

In book form, DuPrau’s text was inspired by her time living in the shadow of nuclear war during the 1950s, when many people were building bunkers. Kenan’s film, on the other hand, serves as a metaphor for modern concerns without ever really over-milking the subtext.

As such, his film functions as more of a mystery and takes its time to unravel, allowing most of its strong ensemble players to shine.

Unfortunately, however, City of Ember loses its way during a disappointing final third that opts for lame special effects-aided chase sequences over anything really intelligent. The result is likely to leave audiences of every age under-whelmed and feels like a missed opportunity given the talent involved.

Certificate: PG
Running time: 94mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: February 23, 2009