Director Gil Kenan
Starring Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Martin Landau, Saoirse Ronan
A teenage fantasy novel about a post-apocalyptic underground city, jolted to screen life by the scribe of Burton’s finest fantasia Edward Scissorhands and the director of the punchy CG kid-flick Monster House? Starring the can-do-no-wrong Bill Murray as the conniving, greedy-guts mayor of the subterranean metropolis?
On the surface, it appears Ember has flicked all the right switches. But this is a family adventure powered by an energy-saving, 40-watt bulb. Still, it’s not without some enchanting gleam… Living underground for 200 years and keeping the flame of humanity alive has turned Ember into a chirpy, industrious hive of happy-clappy citizens who don’t question their lot. But the gargantuan generator keeping scruffy Emberites alive is way past its sell-by-date and has started to pitch their glitter-grunge universe into bouts of scary, flickering darkness.
Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) makes a plucky tomboy heroine, tearing through the cobbled streets on messenger duties and linking up with pipe-worker Harry Treadaway to unravel the mysteries of the dying city’s dwindling food stores and why Mackenzie Crook is wearing such crappy, dime-store teeth. It’s not just creaky facial props, though. There’s something unsatisfying about the higgledy-piggledy, set-constricted realisation of Ember, while the film itself is light on genuine thrills – there’s one boisterous chase by a random, CG mole-beast, a plunging log-flume escape... and that’s your lot, really.
As for the stack of name support players (Tim Robbins, Martin Landau, Toby Jones), they whizz by in a blurred haze of truncated screen time and dispensable purpose, while Murray gives a flat-footed portrayal that cries out for more of his zesty, deadpan comic anarchy. Like too much of Ember, he’s sorely underpowered.
The latest entry in Hollywood's fantasy craze serves up lots of frantic mystery-solving for its teen heroes but not enough menace. The charm is in the detail, but Ember could have used some pepping up on the thrill-front.