Comic Con 2008 – The Train to Ember


On a sunny Los Angeles day at Union Station, a special train carriage was set up to transport a group of journalists to San Diego en route to Comic Con. While Fox Walden decided against a presence at the Convention Center, they decided instead to give us a sneak peak at this eagerly awaited film adaptation of the best selling novel.

The carriage was awash with gorgeous still images of the movie, as well as replicas of many of the props used in the film. In addition, and most excitedly, director Gil Kenan screened scenes from the film that showed the detailed and elaborately cinematic underground community of Ember, where, in the story, people have lived for 240 years in an isolated community, lit up only by a network of lights and electricity generated by a river deep below.
The scenes included the opening “Assignment Day” sequence, in which the Mayor, a laconic performances by Bill Murray) administers the city’s oath and presides over a ceremony in which new school graduates are assigned their life’s work at random: working as a messenger, maintaining the deep network of pipes, working intensely in the city’s gargantuan greenhouses.
The scenes also show the film’s heroine, young Lina Mayfleet (Atonement’s Saoirse Ronan), and her friend Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway), who discover the city’s awful secret: The massive generator below is about to fail, plunging the city into complete darkness.

The scenes also included an encounter with a giant blind mole, the discovery of a secret in the city’s underground power station and Lina’s confrontation with the sinister Mayor in his office, which gives the film an added edge.

There is no doubt that this film is extremely visual, shot on physical sets in a massive studio in Belfast. Director Kenan explained that he needed a space, which was deeper than any studios available in the US. As to whether the film is a faithful adaptation of the novel, the director told me it as “keeping in the spirit and tone of the novel, but I wanted to do something that was more visual than the book. “When I finished reading the book, I had a very clear view of what the place looked like after that first reading, of some of the other creatures and things that inhabit the world. The way I knew I could make this film, was being able to wrap my head around being able to turn it into a visual puzzle, rather than something text based.”

Thematically, he explains, City of Ember is “about appreciating what we’ve got now. Part of it is, I want the feeling from the audience as they walk out of the parking lot, to look under their feet and wonder if there’s no City of Ember down there,” but he insists that his Ember is no simple allegory, though it does have allegorical elements.”