City of Ember Cover

This is a movie which barely made a ripple at the box office, before apparently sinking without a trace, only to emerge in DVD release. Which is a pity, as it is eminently watchable, not least for the detailed visualization of the underground city of the title. It is based on a very popular series of ‘tween novels; I imagine that if you don’t have children of an age to be entranced by the books, it would have been very easy to escape any knowledge of them at all.
The set-up for the story involves an unspecified disaster on the surface of Earth, and the existance of a refuge city deep under the earth; an entire city, completely self-contained in a vast cavern, supplied with enough food for 200 hundred years, powered by an enormous water-powered electrical generator. The civil authority, in the form of the Mayor of Ember is supplied with a small metal box, with a set of crucial instructions and a timer which will go off when supposedly it will be safe enough to emerge from Ember and live on the surface again. But there has been a break in the chain of mayoral authority; the box has been lost and forgotten, sitting on a dusty shelf. The current Mayor is a corrupt and manipulative fool, willing to see all decay around him, if he can hold onto power and privilege for a little longer. More than 200 years have passed, and the electrical generator is breaking down. Blackouts are coming more often and lasting longer, and the only people who seem to have an interest in doing anything about it are a pair of teenage friends. Lina works as a messenger, relaying personal messages among the inhabitants of Ember, since any electrical messaging system has long since decayed. Doon works in the ‘pipes’ repairing and maintaining an infrastructure tottering on the edge of collapse. Everything in this world has an authentic look of something worn out, used-up, patched and repaired many, many times. The movie works and works well, right up until the very, very end – the escape from Ember by Doon and Lina, and Lina’s little sister, which apparently seems to involve a wild water-ride – and an abrupt ending which leaves a number of questions unanswered; like, what actually happened on the surface so many years ago, and what was with the monstrously huge beetles and moles in the outlaying caverns? And what would happen to everyone else, left behind in the crumbling city? The ending seems quite rushed, and unsatisfactory – as if the budget didn’t allow quite enough time for a satisfactory wrap-up. Not having read the books themselves, we were left more than a little puzzled. But up until that point, it is an excellent movie, in comparison to some of the others which target the youth market. Lina and Doon are likable, responsible teenagers, not a pair of bratty, spoiled know-it-alls.

City of Ember will be available Feb. 17th, from and other retail outlets.

Sgt. Mom is a free-lance writer and member of the Independent Authors Guild who lives in San Antonio and blogs at The Daily Brief. Her current book project – The Adelsverein Trilogy is also available through More about her books is at her website

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