Who’s In It: Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadway, Martin Landau, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Toby Jones, Mary Kay Place
The Basics: In a post-apocalyptic underground holding station called City of Ember, populated with generations of refugees from an above-ground disaster, a place with enough light and power to last 200 years, the safety zone’s Time Up mark is rapidly approaching. The lights are flickering out, but its now-comfortable adult inhabitants don’t want to leave. Not that they could if they wanted to because the escape plan is---oops!—lost. In fact, the inept grown-ups would just as soon pretend there was no impending crisis at all. This means the really serious, really brave, really pale kids have to take matters into their own hands and save the day.
What’s The Deal: This movie is from the people who made the very cool Monster House. And you can see that they paid attention to details, especially in the everything-looks-dark-and-awesome department (you’ll hear people comparing it to City of Lost Children a lot—if anyone goes to see it, that is). The problem comes from a story that doesn’t always feel totally coherent (Here comes a monster-mole-thing! Why? Why not?) and that turns its third chunk into a giant gimmick-fest/water-ride. But still, it’s freakier, tougher and stranger than most kid movies, with a moral about saving the Earth’s limited resources, so points for that.
Needs More: Bill Murray. He has a supporting role as a selfish city Mayor and he’s amusing, even unsettling. But does any director not get that a little Bill Murray is good and a little more is better? That should be a well-known rule of thumb by now, I think.
Cast Member to Watch: Saoirse Ronan is an interesting kid. She’s already got one more Oscar nomination under her belt than Dakota Fanning (she was the girl in Atonement who caused all the trouble) and her intense, serious-faced demeanor suggests that she’s about to grow up to be someone you don’t want to mess with. Naturally this makes her a perfect choice for this role. Kids love to watch other kids be no-nonsense and get the job done and save everyone. It gives them something to aspire to besides getting to the next level on some video game.
Why You’ve Barely Seen Any Ads or Billboards For It: This is just me guessing, of course, but something tells me this was given the green light when everybody thought The Golden Compass was going to be huge. And then it wasn’t so much. And they figured, “Well now we cut our losses.” I’m probably completely wrong. But it sounds plausible, right?