City of Ember

This is a post-apocalyptic world-view for kids. "City of Ember" is based on the first book in a popular series of juvenile novels by Jeanne Duprau. According to a friend, if this first one does well at the box office, there will probably be a series of films based on the books. In this one, we follow a pair of teenagers who have been assigned their first adult jobs in a 200-year-old underground city. It is obvious that things are in an advanced state of decay; for example, the generator that provides the light, air and power for this mini-civilization is starting to falter, consequently the citizens are plagued by an accelerating incidence of brownouts and blackouts.

Our girl Lina, portrayed by Saoirse Ronan ("Atonement" and the upcoming "The Lovely Bones"), is eager to perform her first "grown-up" task, that of being a messenger in the city... a task she takes very, very seriously. The boy Doon, portrayed by Harry Treadaway ("Control" and "The Disappeared"), will work with the ever-leakier pipes in the drippy labyrinth that serves the city. His overly cautious father is played by Tim Robbins ("The Lucky Ones" and "Noise"), while his narcoleptic co-worker/boss is played by Martin Landau ("The Majestic" and "Love Made Easy").

The plot has to do with The Builders, who prepared this underground city as a retreat for mankind in the wake of some cataclysmic event that made the surface of the earth uninhabitable. According to their calculations, in 200 years things will return to normal, humans may emerge from their shelter and mankind's regular life can resume.

The current mayor of the city, played by Bill Murray ("Groundhog Day," "Lost in Translation" and "The Royal Tenenbaums"), is vaguely aware that an important metal box had been misplaced a couple of mayors ago. As a result, no one knows that it contains detailed instructions for exiting the underground. Instead, the people blithely worship "The Builders" to whom they look for a safe return to "The Outside." The mayor's loyal sidekick is ably played by the always dependable Toby Jones ("Infamous" and "The Painted Veil").

For awhile I thought we were going to do Plato's allegory of "The Cave," but things brightened up after we left those rusty, leaky corridors and jumped into a hi-tech carnival ride. This movie was probably originally intended for 3D, but it wasn't screened that way. Nevertheless, it is exciting for the kids and has just a couple of scary moments that center around a mole, of all things! ...and that smarmy politician, the mayor...