Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Review - City of Ember (movie)

Last fall I picked up this book and read it. I handed it to Jason and told him that if he read it and liked it, I'd take him to see it in the theaters. Unfortunately, it was sort of a flash in the pan in the theaters and so once he'd read it, we couldn't find it playing anywhere. We finally rented it last weekend and watched it.

I really enjoyed the book and so I was certainly a little tainted by that enjoyment as I went into the movie. I really like Bill Murray and enjoy Tim Robbins, so I was still hopeful for some good entertainment. In the sense of entertainment, I wasn't terribly disappointed. In the sense of being true to the book and exploring the same themes, the movie let me down a bit.

The sets and costuming used in the movie were great. I enjoyed the portrayal of the city and its inhabitants. The city was fairly close to what I had pictured...crowded, drab, dirty. I hadn't really thought about the lights in the "sky" when reading the book, so the way they were created was a little interesting to me...I liked it.

The actors were good, but felt a little static. Thinking back to the book, it's not too far a stretch since a lot of the characters in the book were a little flat as well. But in the movie, even the central characters fell a little flat. In terms of accuracy, it would have been nice if they were more pale...considering the circumstances of their life. I also expected the mayor to be fatter. Yes, his shirt was tight around the belly, but I pictured him as almost disgustingly obese.

Some of the main elements in the story were given very little treatment, which made me sad. For example, Doon's reading and curiosity were presented, but not to the extent that elaborated on the general ignorance of this closed society. Lina's drawing was presented once, very briefly and without any narration. That light treatment made her drive less intense and believable and made her statement at the end of the movie feel out of place. The actual interpretation of the box and the paper they found was treated differently as well and it made me kind of sad. I would have liked to have seen more in the planning and thinking.

Still, the filmmakers wanted something that would present some exciting action on-screen and I can't wholly blame them. Although, that desire led to a couple of the radical changes from the book. First was the introduction of huge creatures threatening the people. This was on the periphery in the book (so far off that I can't remember it) but in the movie it became a main threat, even to the demise of a character (who dies much differently on the page than on screen). There was also a huge change in the method of the actual EXIT. Again, in trying to add more tension and action and show off some cool technology, the exit sequence involved strange cool technology (still working remarkably well after hundreds of years), the possible death of a peripheral character in the book, and an inconsistency (if Lina and Doon left the city and the pipeworks in the state it existed, it's unlikely that they would have had to actually send their "note" in order to help people begin their own exit).

Overall, I found the movie enjoyable, but not nearly so fun as the book. It felt a little too fluffy and happy and less thoughtful and insightful. It's fun, but there are other movies that may better fill your time...and even better use of your time would be to pick up the book.

2 stars

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