City of Ember Review
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Once upon a time, kids’ books were really nothing special. Most kids read only what they had to read for school—and they’d never think about saving their pennies and racing to the store to by a book. Then along came an orphaned boy wizard—and, like magic, everything changed.

Just a few years later, Harry Potter did the same thing for kids’ movies. Once, studios only released cartoons and silly family comedies. Then the Harry Potter series proved that kids (and their parents) would happily pay gobs of money to see something that was dark and exciting and visually stunning (and based on a thrilling kids’ book). Now, theaters are so flooded with pre-teen adventures that, unfortunately, some of them get lost in the shuffle—like City of Ember.

More than 200 years ago—just before the world ended—a group of men known only as The Builders created an underground city called Ember, in the hopes that they could somehow save mankind. To the mayor of this new city, they gave a locked box—filled with some very important instructions—which would automatically unlock after 200 years.

Since then, the box has been long lost, but the city and its inhabitants have survived. Now, however, the city’s generator is slowly dying—and the city’s residents could be in grave danger.

While digging through her grandmother’s closet one day, Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan) finds the box. Inside, there’s some kind of message—but it’s ripped and crumpled, and she can’t figure out what it says. Still, she senses that it’s important.

When she discovers that her father died trying to (illegally) find a way out of the city, Lina becomes determined to finish what her father started. And with the city’s blackouts getting longer and longer, there’s no time to waste.

Based on the post-Potter middle-reader book by Jeanne Duprau, City of Ember is a smart and imaginative film that’s filled with preteen-friendly action and adventure. The story and its themes may be familiar, but it all comes together well, in a way that still feels fresh and creative. And viewers—both young and old alike—will find themselves caught up in the story and the characters’ attempt to find a way out of the city before it’s too late. In fact, the deeper you get into the story, the more thrilling it becomes.

But the film’s success is also due, in no small part, to the stunning sets and gorgeous cinematography. Because while the city may be dark and rather eerie—and even dreary, in that post-apocalyptic, Mad Max kind of way—it’s also strangely beautiful. From the sparkling lights above the city to its bustling streets and down to its hidden underground tunnels, Ember is a fascinating place, filled with heroes, villains, and giant insects.

City of Ember is a dark but refreshing change of pace from the same old corny kids’ comedy. So if your kids are looking for something thrilling to hold them over until the next Harry Potter movie hits theaters, give this one a try. After seeing it, they might even save their pennies to buy a copy of the book.

DVD Review:
The DVD release of City of Ember is, sadly, almost entirely feature-free. There are no making-of featurettes. No behind-the-scenes stuff. No commentary. Nothing about the book on which the movie was based. Just a few trailers for other kids’ movies. Fortunately, though, the movie is good on its own. Otherwise, this would be a seriously disappointing DVD release.

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