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City of Ember

Film (2008). Walden Media/20th Century Fox. Directed by Gil Kenan. Written by Caroline Thompson, based on the novel The City of Ember (2003) by Jeanne DuPrau. Cast includes Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Saoirse Ronan and Harry Treadaway. 92 minutes. Colour.

Faced with an unnamed global Disaster, a group of Scientists construct an Underground City for a small portion of humanity to wait out the End of the World. It is hinted that the cause of this apocalypse is nuclear (see Nuclear Energy), since in the aftermath moths and moles have grown to B-movie proportions (see Great and Small); but this conflicts with the fact that the surface of the Earth has returned to normal after 200 years. Not that the inhabitants of Ember are aware of this: out of a bizarre technocratic Utopian impulse, the scientists have kept the people they have rescued in ignorance of their situation, locking them inside with a list of rules and a single box on a timer containing the escape route. Predictably this goes wrong, leaving the people of the city ignorant of their position and putting a brave face on their slow regression (see Devolution). It is as though they took shelter in a tube station during a World War Two bombing raid and never emerged. Make do and mend is the order of the day: there are no batteries, so torches are attached to huge lengths of flex, and telecoms are replaced by messengers, but crude Robots cobbled together from spare parts still exist (see Technology). After hundreds of years of isolation, this society has evolved into a sort of cosy Dystopia where children are arbitrarily assigned jobs for life and no one voices the obvious fact that the city's Power Source is approaching terminal failure.

No one, that is, except our plucky teenage protagonists, Lina (Ronan) and Doon (Treadaway). One of the reasons dystopia is such a popular form of Children's SF is that it flatteringly suggests all adults are stupid and incurious, regardless of whether they are good like Doon's dad or bad like the spiv-ish mayor (played by slumming Hollywood heavyweights Robbins and Murray, respectively). This abrogation of adult responsibility leaves our heroes free to collect the plot coupons and save the day. This rote adventure is likely to be of interest only to very young viewers and detracts from the intriguing setting of the gradually dimming Ember. This perhaps explains why none of the other novels in DuPrau's City of Ember series – The People of Sparks (2004), The Prophet of Yonwood (2006) and The Diamond of Darkhold (2008) – have subsequently been adapted. [ML]

see also: Conceptual Breakthrough.


Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 01:59 am on 12 August 2022.