City of Ember
Directed by GIl Kenan
Starring: Harry Treadaway, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, Tim Robbins
Rated PG
In Theaters

This is a children’s literature blog, so it’s hard for me to watch a movie based on a kid’s book and not compare the two. Actually, this review (and I use that term loosely) won’t make much sense unless you’ve read Jeanne DuPrau’s book. Times listed below are approximate. I didn’t have a watch on, so I made my best guess about what happened when.

7:35 – Walking into the theater. My wife comments about the Ember logo on the poster, saying she really liked the book cover and was hoping they would use it on the poster. While the movie logo isn’t that bad, I still have to agree. Let the book to movie comparisons begin!

7:40 – Previews start. “Inkheart” trailer looks alright. Brendan Frasier (hot off “Journey to the Center of the Earth”) continues his “I’m not going to appear in a reality based movie ever again” streak.

7:50 – Movie begins. Note to self: when I make a movie, use really skinny blue font on a black background for the opening credits – it looks great.

7:52 – Opening sequence where The Builders leave instructions for getting out of Ember. It’s very well done. I’m kinda getting chills. I always thought that was an outstanding opening for a book, and the movie is doing it justice. I especially like the way they show the box getting passed from mayor to mayor “elapsed time” style. The metal box is getting older and more beat up as it is passed on over the years.

7:59 – The box clicks open and we get our first view of Ember. It looks amazing. I had heard the sets were great, but I am really impressed. I don’t see how fans of the book can be anything but pleased. Floodlights everywhere, dank buildings and streets. The city looks like it’s on its last legs, as it should. I’m absolutely pumped up about what is to come.

8:05 – Our first look at Lina and Doon. They’re a little older than the book, but no big deal, since I was expecting this. Doon’s dad is an inventor (Tim Robbins). Was that in the book? Me trying really hard to remember what was in the book and what wasn’t begins.

8:10 – Bill Murray as Mayor Cole makes his first appearance. I think this was a good casting choice. Murray can play the “friendly” guy with something to hide pretty well. He’s slimmer than the book mayor, but is sporting a nice gut.

8:21 – Man, things are really sticking to the book pretty well. The pace is fast, but it’s working. Lina and Doon have switched jobs and are reporting for their first day of work. The pipeworks looks great. Doon is meeting a new character named “Sul” played by Martin Landau. Lina’s job is taking her all over the city, which is cool to see.

8:15 – Doon encounters a really big moth. That’s strange.

8:30 –  Things are lively. It’s like they have a checklist of plot points they want to hit. Doon finding a passage to the storeroom? Check. Lina giving a mysterious message to the mayor? check. It’s keeping everyone’s interest for sure, but there’s not much character development going on.

8:32 – Oh no. A giant mole just showed up in the pipeworks. What is going on? A giant mole? Is this necessary?

8:40 – Lina finds the time capsule box and is figuring out the instructions left by The Builders. This is cool. The map is torn up (thanks to Poppy) and Lina is piecing it together. I’m enjoying this. Tension is building.

8:45 – Doon and Lina discover the mayor’s secret. Even though the pace has been fast, now it kicks into “we’re in the mad dash to the finish” mode.

8:53 – Lina and Doon are getting chased by the mayor’s henchmen. Now they’re at the greenhouses. They’re getting on some kind of a digging vehicle – another completely installed bit of plot that makes me ask “is this an improvement?”

9:15 – The way they find the boats is new, and kinda cool. Even though it strays from the book, it fits with the story. I’m getting excited about what’s going to happen next.

9:20 – More giant mole. This time the mayor is involved. Fans of the book everywhere let out a collective “huh?”.

9:23 – Is this a boat ride or an amusement park? I had no problem with the effects up until now. It’s lookin’ a bit fake. Wait, was that a ramp near the end of the trip? A jump? I’m still into it, but that took me out of things for a sec.

9:30 – Lina, Doon, and Poppy come to the end of their trip. They dock the boat and get back on land. They pass through a receiving room before entering the open air. It’s night time, so there isn’t an immediate happy ending.

9:32 – The sun rises and we see the surroundings. After spending the whole movie underground, it’s strange to see a natural landscape. They drop a message to the citizens of Ember and the closing credits roll. A nice finish.

Overall, the film version of “City of Ember” was pretty solid. The visuals were outstanding and the plot stuck with the book minus a few noticable exceptions. I came to the conclusion about 10 minutes in that I would not be able to give an unbiased analysis due to my love for the book. I enjoyed the film, though is was not without its flaws.

(Click here to read Alicia Potter’s review of the film for The Horn Book)