CITY OF EMBER (D: Gil Kenan, 95 min) Opens Oct. 10. See movies. Rating: NN
City Of Ember has an intriguing pre mise and some really nifty sets, but that's about it.
In a deteriorating subterranean city built to preserve humanity after some unspecified planetary disaster more than two centuries earlier, a pair of youngsters (Control's Harry Treadaway and Atonement's Saoirse Ronan) discover a possible escape route out of their crumbling society.
Trouble is, they only get around to the escaping part after more than an hour of listening to adult authority figures - including Tim Robbins as Treadaway's idealistic dad, Mary Kay Place as Ronan's overly trusting neighbour and Bill Murray as Ember's calculating mayor - while the film spins its wheels, doling out intriguing hints about the nature of Ember's design and purpose that never pay off.
(If you're going to have giant insects and man-eating moles rampag ing through your story, you really need to explain them at some point.)
I suspect a lot of the problems with City Of Ember were exacerbated in post-production. Like Dark City, it opens with an unnecessary gush of exposition that puts us several steps ahead of the characters rather than letting us discover the story's secrets with them.
But the movie would be a frustrating experience even without that foreknowledge. It's a problematic morass of contrasting performance styles and clumsy visual storytelling. Making the leap to live-action features, Monster House director Gil Kenan demonstrates that he still thinks in sequences rather than long-form narrative.
Sure, we get to admire Martin Laing's appealingly ramshackle production design here and there, but that's not enough reason to sit through the movie.