Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

City of Ember


This might have been a good book. Tom Hanks and the other producers must have thought so, since they paid pretty good money for it and optioned the three sequels. But this one totally tanked, so I wouldn’t be looking for the continuing saga. It has the look of something that was cut down from a first cut 30, even 40 minutes longer. Everything is too hurried. The sets are massive, and look pretty good, though it all reminded me of Brazil. Outmoded tech everywhere—Edison light bulbs, magnetic tape answering machines but, for some reason, no telephones—slapped together and made to work, but now it’s all failing. Supposedly, 200 years ago the world was being destroyed and a noble band of scientists built an underground city of about 400 people, who knew nothing of the outside world. They were supposed to be coming out now, when it’s all wearing out, but most people are too set in their ways to want to leave. Two young people start on the puzzle of looking for the exit. Gee, maybe it’s that flashing sign over there that says EXIT …

The plot stupidities are too many to bother with in such a messy film, but one will do. Our girl (Saoirse Ronan, who is good even in bad pictures) trying to figure out a partial map she has, says “The Builders wanted to make it simple and obvious.” And for the next half hour they have to solve stumper after stumper, anything but obvious. And surprise! The exit turns out to be by way of a ho-hum obstacle course that will kill you with one false step, and ends with a ride down the log flume from Splash Mountain. This one is a total, sad mess.