Date Reviewed:
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10th October 2008

Summary:

Ember is a city built to last 200 years. The Builders of this city left instructions to the mayors in a box that would open by itself, unfortunately, one of the mayors was corrupt, and tossed the box into a closet, to be forgotten about for centuries. The year is 241. Lina Mayfleet, and Doon Harrow are two children in Ember that find themselves on a mission to save their dying city. For the citys lights are beginning to flicker, and the food supplies are running out. Doon lands a job in the Pipeworks, to see if he can fix the generator. Linas job is simple, she is a messenger, but she soon finds herself in over her head when she discovers the instructions left by the builders so long ago. Her and Doon find themselves on an adventure when they discover the way out of Ember, but corrupt officials, and a treacherous mayor stand against their wishes of saving the city. With courage and heart they brave the darkness, all to help their citizens escape the dying city, and lead them to another world.

Review:

Having just taken 129 eighth-graders who read the book to see the premiere, everyone left the theater disappointed with what director Kil Kenan and screenwriter Caroline Thompson have given us with this translation from the page to the screen. Thompson deserves more of the blame in their (and my) opinion.

Books rarely translate better to film and this one suffers for many reasons. Jeanne DuPrau's book is an amazing trove of metaphors (candles, the library, the seed, the Pipeworks, and the city itself). When works of literature work on multiple levels, the filmmakers should at least offer us more than one. In fact, this book could be a metaphor for metaphors -- there are things below the surface that exist whether we acknowledge them or not; it is our job to find the tools to excavate the "deeper" level of what exists for others only on the surface.

Sacrificed for intellectual depth, the film version does a great disservice to the dedicated reader: we are given special effects that defy logic and re-focus the story unnaturally and unnecessarily; we lose some of the intricate details of character development; there's an unnecessary inclusion of giant scary creatures that offer distracting (and bizarre) thrills; and the mystery of what Ember is is destroyed in the first minute of narration.

The design of the film is great, but as in design, the beauty is found in the details. I believe that the greatest details of the book are missing, hidden away like the people of Ember. Let them come into the light!