Mom on Film: City of Ember Fails to Ignite on DVD

When I learned last spring that City of Ember was to be released as a movie, I was cautiously optimistic. Our family read the book aloud together several years ago and decided, even before completing it, that it would probably sooner or later be turned into a film. Our question was, would the filmmakers do the book justice?

Released in theaters in last October, Ember disappeared again quickly. Its rapid release to DVD this week represents the kind of turnaround that leads me to think the producers (including Tom Hanks) were disappointed in their product and chose to scramble to recoup their losses quickly. At the same time, they apparently decided not to throw good money after bad, because the DVD -- at least the screener copy Fox sent me -- contains no bonus features at all, not even the film's trailer.

If the producers were disappointed, they are not alone. My young daughters were bothered by (1) what was removed from the story, which we concluded amounted to its heart, and (2) by what was added, which we agreed amounted to a lot of unresolved, unnecessary distractions. The film version of City of Ember gave us no reason to really care about the characters (Saoirse Ronan as Lina, Harry Treadaway as Doon and a miscast Tim Robbins as Doon's father, Loris Harrow) and developed none of the book's sense of urgency. Ultimately, it lacked denouement and was, despite a clearly special-effects-generated escape by boat, entirely anticlimactic.

In the book Doon's father repeatedly reminds his son to not act out of anger: "when anger is the boss," he says, "you get unintended consequences." The film version of City of Ember fails, unfortunately and inexplicably, to induce any strong feelings, even anger at what amounts to a squandered opportunity. Perhaps a stronger screenplay would have produced the spark needed to bring this compelling story to life on screen.