City of Ember

City of Ember PosterThe first word that comes to mind when trying to describe this movie is ‘interesting’, and it was a very interesting concept. Unfortunately, the execution of that concept was a bit on the poor side, which might explain why this film was such a flop at the box office a couple years ago.


The Story

Mankind is in danger. The world has been enveloped in a deadly war which threatens to wipe out the entire population of the globe. A small group of scientists decides that the best way to preserve the human race is to send a group underground. They build a city and place instructions inside a sealed metal box set to open in two hundred years showing how to leave the city once it is safe above ground. The box is entrusted to the care of the first mayor of Ember and a group of people are sent to safety underground.

As time passes the box is lost and, when the two hundred years are up, the box clicks open in the back of a small closet, out of sight and out of mind. As more time passes and no one finds the box, the generator that keeps the city alive begins to fail.


The Good

The filmmakers had an outstanding idea. Making a movie about people who survive the end of the world has been done before and, from what I hear, not very well. But making a movie about people who go underground for 200 years to keep the world from ending? That’s pretty unique. Also, the film is clean. No cursing, misusing of the Lord’s name, or teenage love story. That alone is enough to set this film apart from most of the sci-fi world.

The main goal of the film’s heroes is to save mankind from death when the generator powering their underground city fails. Along the way the lead young man looks out for the safety of his female counterpart and tries his best to keep her out of danger. While this theme of protecting woman and children is not spelled out as clearly as it could be, it was there.

This film also features a rather interesting example of the Bible’s plan of salvation. The citizens of Ember have a strong belief that the city’s builders (a reference to a Creator, perhaps?) will someday return and show them the way out. While they never do come back, they had left instructions in a box (a bible) which is found by Doon and Lina (the proclaimers of the truth), who follow the instructions and are able to lead the people to safety again. I’m not saying it was intentional on the part of the filmmakers to include something like this, but it was still an interesting part of the plot.


The Bad

The young man’s relationship with his father is far from perfect. His dad is not featured often, but things get a bit uncomfortable when they share screen time.

The real disappointment in this film was that it was not as well done as it could have been. The set pieces and locations were amazing, the cinematography was well done, the lead actors were quite believable, yet the film was a flop. Why? Well, for one thing, it was a bit disjointed at places. It also had a slow opening, and we never did get a very clear sense of why they were all living underground. I had read enough reviews to know the answer to that question, but it should have been made clearer in the film.



While I found the film to be fairly enjoyable, it was hard to keep from thinking, “If they had only improved this, and fixed that, we could have an excellent film here”. It’s disappointing, especially as this is one of a very few sci-fi/fantasy films available that is completely clean. Just goes to show that even a good story can be told poorly.

EDIT: While on the topic of City of Ember, I’d like to recommend an article by Aubrey Hansen entitled, “The Builder’s Message: A Response to City Of Ember in a Christian Perspective“.


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