Fox has a knack for picking up great properties, then having no idea what to do with them and letting them fail. The most egregious example is Firefly, what was possibly the best sci-fi show ever on television. The most recent has to be City of Ember.
I saw exactly one commercial for City of Ember and no other advertising of any other kind. The commercial looked awesome, and better yet it was PG and looked like something the kids would enjoy. Unfortunately, one TV commercial does not a successful marketing campaign make. City of Ember was completely missed by the public, and its ticket sales were terrible.
I had wanted to take the family to see this over thanksgiving of 2008, but we weren't able to make it. Enter the DVD. Last night we sat down as a family to watch City of Ember.
The movie is simply beautiful (except for some rather poor CGI right at the end of the film). Ember is a 200 year old city underground, sort of a "noah's ark" for humanity as the land above ground was not suitable for life anymore. The builders decided that 200 years should be enough time for the earth to recover to allow humans to live topside again, so they put instructions for leaving Ember in a box that was locked for 200 years. The problem is that the box was lost when the 7th mayor died, and with it the secret that ember was only temporary.
The movie takes place after 200 years have past and Ember is wearing out. The generator that runs all of the electricity is failing (a key part of an underground city). The pipes have more patches than pipes, and the food is running out (and medicine is all but gone). What I really love is that the movie brilliantly portrays a city in decline. Early on in the movie a band plays at a "big occasion" with the mayor (played by Bill Murray, one of the weakest performances in the film unfortunately) and they are a small, ratty band with instruments that look like they could fall apart at any moment. This theme of decay carries on throughout ember: stuff doesn't work, much is forgotten, supplies are scarce.
The city officials don't know what to do about ember's decline, and the people are holding on to the hope that the builders will come save them (of course, the builders are long dead). In this setting the two lead characters, both children, go on a path of adventure and discovery to save the city. The plot isn't earth shattering, and the beginning is a little confusing, but on the whole this is a wonderful family film (a little scary for small kids, my youngest is 8 and it was just fine). We all enjoyed the movie and it is something we will definitely look to add to our collection at some point.
In a world where a piece of garbage like Saw can span three sequels, it's depressing to see a wonderful film like City of Ember fail. If you are looking for a fun night of family entertainment (truthfully, i would watch it without my kids, it's a good movie) City of Ember deserves your attention.