City of Ember
Directed by Gil Kenan
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Bill Murray, Toby Jones, Tim Robbins, Martin Landau
Release date: October 10, 2008
Fantasy films are a tough business these days. Unless your movie features a character named Frodo Baggins or Harry Potter, it’s doomed to go straight from a brief theatrical run to having to find any sign of shelf life on DVD. But damn if the major studios don’t persist, opening their checkbooks to hire the best cinematic artisans money can buy in the hopes that whatever modestly successful children’s book they purchase the rights to will break the curse and rake in the dough at the box office. As a result us moviegoers have had to endure the likes of Eragon, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, and The Spiderwick Chronicles. Some of these movies were good in their own way, but they only proved to demonstrate that all of the millions of dollars in big-name stars and expensive visual effects can’t match the movies we create instantly in our mind when we lose ourselves in the pages of a good book.
But they do try, and as I mentioned before every once in a while a popular fantasy book series such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter not only break through to become critically and financially successful, but also transcend the typical temporary blockbuster popularity and become pop culture touchstones. I don’t see that happening for City of Ember, the latest film from Monster House director Gil Kenan, but it is a much stronger film than Hollywood has produced for the youth market this year and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an intelligent and visually sumptuous fantasy with a good story. But that’s not to say the movie is without its share of problems.
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