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City of Ember


Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Martin Landau, Mary Kay Place, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Liz Smith

Director: Gil Kenan

In this junior league (rather too junior league) fantasy, Earth has been evacuated and a giant city built underground, lit from above by millions of lights powered by a colossal generator. For some reason, the city's time limit has been set at 200 years, time which is now up. The lights are dimming, the generator is failing and food is running out, though you would have thought the citizens, even if they seem a bit thin on the ground, could have done something about that.

The key to salvation, however, appears to lie in a metal box which has been passed down from mayor to mayor, but was lost 47 years ago. The box lies in the possession of an elderly grandmother (Smith), whose sturdy granddaughter Lina (Ronan) is about to graduate from school when work assigments are handed out by the current mayor (Murray in a fatsuit), a shady character who still holds half the key to whatever is in the box.

Swapping her 'pipeworks' job for the 'messenger' assignment held by Doon (Treadaway), Lina creates a friendship that will affect the future of the city.

Deservedly top-billed, grave-faced Irish actress Ronan is first-rate as the fleet-footed, intrepid Lina and, together with the brilliant production design (with its Heath Robinson-style contraptions) and a giant killer mole, contrives to steal the show. And there's an exciting riverborne climax. In its dialogue and portentous narration, however, the film is not so successful, appealing less to adults than it should, while Murray's presence as the mayor, one of a series of caricatures out of a tinies' storybook, gives the yarn uneasy echoes of Horton Hears a Who!.

Without a Trace fans will recognise Jean-Baptiste as the owner of the city's only food-producing greenhouse.

David Quinlan

USA/Northern Ireland 2008. UK Distributor: Entertainment. Colour by deluxe.
95 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 08 Oct 2008