City of Ember
|City of Ember|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Gil Kenan|
|Produced by||Seth Hanchett
|Written by||Caroline Thompson
Jeanne DuPrau (Novel)
|Music by||Andrew Lockington|
|Cinematography||Xavier Pérez Grobet|
|Editing by||Adam P. Scott
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Release date(s)||October 10, 2008|
|Running time||90 minutes|
City of Ember is a 2008 science fiction fantasy film based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Jeanne DuPrau. It was directed by Gil Kenan from a screenplay by Caroline Thompson, and stars Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Bill Murray, Mackenzie Crook, Martin Landau and Tim Robbins. It was released in October 2008, just two months after the release of the final "Book of Ember", The Diamond of Darkhold.
In the midst of a nuclear war, the Builders of the underground "City of Ember" place secret instructions to future generations in a small box, timed to open in 200 years. The box is entrusted the mayor of the underground complex. Each mayor, in turn, passes the box onto his or her successor. When the box has 47 more years left on the time-lock, the mayor holding the box dies suddenly. The significance of the box had not been explained to anyone else, and the mayor's family places it in a junk-filled closet. When 200 years have passed, the time-lock clicks the box open, but the event goes unnoticed.
For generations, the people of Ember have lived in a huge underground complex built as a refuge for humanity. It is built into a vast cavern so high that it is filled with regular-sized buildings. Far above the tops of the buildings are banks of floodlights that light the city during the day and provide light for the greenhouses. The lights are powered by a massive generator. Now it is year 247 and Ember threatens to fall into darkness as the generator begins to fail. Blackouts are occurring with increasing frequency and last longer each time. The reserves of canned goods and light bulbs are becoming depleted. Much of the knowledge about how to utilize and repair the systems necessary for the city's survival has also slowly been lost over succeeding generations.
At a rite of passage for all graduating students called Assignment Day, the mayor (Bill Murray) stands before the graduating students as they choose, by lottery, what their occupations will be. Lina (Saoirse Ronan), a young girl dreaming to be a messenger, is assigned to be a "Pipeworks Laborer" and Doon (Harry Treadaway) is assigned "Messenger". The two swap occupations despite the fact that it is prohibited. Lina goes home to find her grandmother searching for something in the closet, which turns out to be the lost metal box. Unable to piece the torn papers inside the box together, Lina nevertheless resolves to decipher their meaning and enlists Doon's help. As blackouts become more frequent, Lina and Doon realize that the information inside the box could lead to the salvation of Ember. Racing against time, the two follow the clues, and eventually come into conflict with the mayor and other corrupt politicians.
During their flight, it turns out that their parents had once joined in an attempt to make their way beyond Ember - an attempt which ended when Lina's father drowned after their tunneler hit an underground river. The pair realizes the document is a set of instructions on how to escape the city, and they search for the hidden exit. They also discover that the mayor has been hoarding canned food in a secret room. When they report the theft, they are declared traitors. Now on the run from the mayor's police, the pair puts their escape plan into action. They fetch Poppy, Lina's younger sister, and follow the instructions, which leads them to the surface where they see and feel the natural air and sky for the first time. At first, they despair, because it is dark and they assume that they have not escaped, but they do not realize it is night time. In the morning, as the sun rises, they gaze in amazement at the glowing sun and blue sky. They then tie a message of their discovery to a rock and drop it back down to the city, where it is found by Doon's father (Tim Robbins).
- Saoirse Ronan as Lina Mayfleet, descendant of the 7th Mayor of Ember
- Harry Treadaway as Doon Harrow
- Bill Murray as Mayor Cole, the current mayor and the main antagonist.
- Toby Jones as Barton Snode, assistant to Mayor Cole.
- Martin Landau as Sul, technician in the Pipeworks and mentor to Doon.
- Tim Robbins as Loris 'Barrow' Harrow, Doon's father
- Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Clary Lane, Greenhouse Keeper
- Liz Smith as Granny Mayfleet
- Amy Quinn and Catherine Quinn as Poppy Mayfleet, younger sister of Lina.
- Mary Kay Place as Mrs. Murdo
- Mackenzie Crook as Looper, keeper of the store rooms.
- Lucinda Dryzek as Lizzie Bisco, Lina's best friend.
- Matt Jessup as Joss, a classmate of Lina and Doon
- Simon Kunz as Captain Fleery, Lina's boss.
- Ian McElhinney as a Builder
In October 2004, Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman paid in the mid-six figures to purchase the film rights to Jeanne DuPrau's 2003 novel The City of Ember. They entered negotiations with Caroline Thompson to adapt the novel and Gil Kenan to direct the film. The deal includes an option on the sequel novel The People of Sparks.
Filming was scheduled to begin in early summer of 2007 and to wrap up in October of the same year, a 16-week shooting process. A former paint hall in the shipyard of Harland and Wolff in Belfast's Titanic Quarter was converted into the post-apocalyptic city.
Walden Media hired Lucas Cruikshank to promote the movie in his internet series "Fred". The video was released Saturday, October 4, 2008 with an edited version of clips from the film, including "Fred's" face superimposed on the faces of characters from the trailer.
At the after-party at meatpacking district eatery Vento, the pic's baddie, Bill Murray, said, "You can't help but feel that this film is speaking to you right now, when you really feel a little bit lost, a little abandoned." Added pic's Tim Robbins, who was joined by castmates Martin Landau and Saoirse Ronan at the preem: "I just loved the script. It had such a good, optimistic spirit about it. It's fun to play against this bleak, dark world."
Critical response 
The film received mixed reviews from critics. According to the consensus from review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film "is visually arresting, and boasts a superb cast, but is sadly lacking in both action and adventure." Of the 124 reviewers listed, 53% of the critics gave positive reviews.
Stephen Holden wrote in The New York Times that the "talents of Saoirse Ronan, the brilliant young actress from Atonement," were "wasted in the science-fiction juvenilia of City of Ember," though he added (and was one of many who disagree that the film is "lacking in both action and adventure"), "Most of the time, however, it's a whiz-bang kid's film with neat gadgets and sound effects and an extended chase and escape sequence through underground rivers and tunnels. At only 95 minutes, the movie feels as though it had been shredded in the editing room... The best things about this yarn are scenes of ominous grinding machinery of the kind found in railway yards, as well as several zany gadgets worthy of Rube Goldberg. The most witty is a primitive telephone-answering machine that resembles the do-it-yourself hi-fi kits assembled by audiophiles in the early days of stereo... Tim Robbins is also on hand as Doon's earnest, secretly rebellious father, who spends his days tinkering with exotic inventions... But not to worry: the boundless resourcefulness of two curious, clean-cut adolescents full of gee-whiz enthusiasm may lead humanity back into the fresh air and sunlight."
A reviewer for Variety had similarly mixed feelings: "A fabulously designed underground metropolis proves more involving than the teenagers running through its streets in City of Ember, a good-looking but no more than serviceable adaptation of Jeanne Duprau's 2003 novel. Director Gil Kenan's disappointing live-action follow-up to his enjoyable toon debut, Monster House, shows promising flickers of visual invention throughout, but the dramatic sparks fail to ignite in this simpleminded exercise in juvenile dystopia." The reviewer, Justin Chang, observed that the characters represent "English-speaking, predominantly Caucasian humanity."
A reviewer for Video Business wrote, "this lavishly designed adventure saga from director Gil Kenan... plays like Terry Gilliam's Brazil -- for beginners." He praised the "secret escape plan hidden by Ember's founders" and "impressive technical work," concluding that there were "drama and sometimes lethargic pacing, but there's enough here for middle- and high-school kids to think about and marvel over."
Box office 
Awards and honors 
Saoirse Ronan was nominated for a 2009 Irish Film and Television Award as "Best Actress in a Lead Role in a Film", and art director Jon Billington and production designer Martin Laing were nominated for Satellite Awards in 2008 for their design of the film, as was Ruth Myers for her costume design.
Home media 
The DVD was released on Tuesday, January 20, 2009 in a DVD-18 format with the widescreen version of the film on one side, and the full screen version on the other.
It was released in 2009 on Blu-ray Disc in the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, all coded for Region B playback only. No United States Blu-ray release has been announced.
- "City of Ember". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
- TCM Misc. notes for The City of Ember
- Michael Fleming (2004-10-31). "Playtone warms up to 'Ember'". Variety. Retrieved 2007-04-27.
- Jane Loughrey (2007-03-07). "Hanks' firm to shoot film in Belfast's Titanic Quarter". UTV. Retrieved 2007-04-27.
- "Robbins' role in City of Ember". BBC. 2007-07-14. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
- Flaherty, Mike (Oct. 13, 2008). "'Ember' glows in N.Y.". New York (New York: New York Media, LLC).
- Platt, Adam. "Vento Frustration". Retrieved January 21, 2013.
- "City of Ember Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2010-09-13.
- "City of Ember reviews". Metacritic.com. Retrieved 2009-08-12.
- Holden, Stephen (Oct. 10, 2008). "Fleeing a Dying Civilization, Toward Hope and Sunlight". The New York Times (New York: The New York Times Company). p. C10.
- Chang, Justin (Oct. 13, 2008). "Eye-popping 'Ember' burns out". Variety (New York: Penske Business Media) 412 (9): 39.
- Slifkin, Irv (Dec. 29, 2008). "City of Ember" 28 (51). Video Business. p. 13.
- "Box Office Weekend Grosses from 10/10/08 to 10/01/09". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-10-26.
- IMDB Awards
- Official website
- Fox Walden site for Press
- Production notes
- City of Ember at the Internet Movie Database
- City of Ember at AllRovi
- City of Ember at Metacritic
- City of Ember at Box Office Mojo
- City of Ember at Rotten Tomatoes
- City of Ember at the TCM Movie Database