Sunday, October 12, 2008

City of Ember, a three-star family flick

I am so frustrated by movie reviewers who dismiss a kids' film by saying, "Eh, it was okay but only kids will like it," as though I am choosing between City of Ember and the new Leonardo DiCaprio thriller. That is ridiculous--I am just praying for something that is not Beverly Hills Chihuahua.

I love good kids' movies and in fact my screenwriting teacher always said that studying children's films was a good way to learn how to write. But not every film is going to be The Wizard of Oz, or even Narnia or Harry Potter (uneven, but generally enjoyable).

With that in mind, I give the latest literary adaptation City of Ember a solid three stars. The two young actors, Saoirse Ronan playing Lina and Harry Treadaway playing Doon, were appealing in a relatable way. They fit in to the dystopian surrounding, the collapsing City of Ember, an underground bunker designed to survive an apocalypse. The citizens were supposed to emerge 200 years later, but those instructions were lost, and after 220 years the city is in big trouble. One major problem is that the citizens don't even know they are underground and they are forbidden to explore the outlying dark regions, which would reveal that they are in a cave. Supplies and the electric generator are giving out. Can Lina and Doon save the day before the Ember dies out?

The movie is based on the excellent book by Jeanne DuPrau. I do have to say the changes made for the movie were mostly negative. While the theme of infrastructure collapse seems eerily appropriate right now, whoever decided to randomly introduce super-sized animals into the movie (Radiation induced? It's never explained.) should have been fired. The only good thing I can say about a giant (and I do mean GIANT) star-nosed mole appearing on-screen was that my daughter leaned over to me and said, "It's an R.O.U.S." Girl knows her Princess Bride! I must be doing something right.

The movie is a solid PG. A little scary, but not too bad, though the idea of the city going dark gave me much more anxiety on the screen than it did on the page. I think it' suitable for ages nine and up--it's nice to see something for older elementary kids. Watch the movie and then check out the original book and the solid sequel, The People of Sparks. They are great choices for families who still like to read out loud together even after the kids are old enough to read independently. However, you can skip the third book, the forgettable prequel, The Prophet of Yonwood, which so thoroughly failed to hold my attention that I didn't even finish it.

I just now learned there is a new book in the series, The Diamond of Darkhold. A reader review says it helps wrap up the series. Hmmm, maybe worth a read. Though I still feel burned by book #3, I care enough about Lina and Doon to find out what happens to them next.

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