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Movie Review: Ender’s Game
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Adam Frazier   |  @   |  
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Ender's Game Movie Poster LionsgateEnder’s Game
Director: Gavin Hood
Screenwriter: Gavin Hood
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Moisés Arias
Summit Entertainment
Rated PG-13 | 114 Minutes
Release Date: November 1, 2013

Written and directed by Gavid Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Ender’s Game is based on the 1985 science-fiction novel by Orson Scott Card.

After an alien species attacks Earth, the International Fleet prepares for an inevitable second strike by training the best and brightest children to find a commander who can fill the shoes of the legendary war hero Mazer Rackham.

Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a shy but strategically brilliant boy, is recruited to join the International Fleet and attend Battle School. Located in Earth’s orbit, Battle School is a military academy where young cadets participate in competitive war simulations in zero gravity.

After mastering the increasingly challenging war games, Ender is promoted to Command School by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis), who think he could be the legendary military genius they’ve been looking for. Once there, he is trained to lead a war that will determine the future of Earth and the human race.

Distributed by Summit Entertainment, Ender’s Game is a teen-targeted mash-up of Starship Troopers and The Last Starfighter with a dash of Harry Potter. Gifted brats youngsters attend a fascist military academy where they learn to follow orders and become cold-hearted killers.

In the future, it seems, everyone is an asshole. That’s the biggest problem with Ender’s Game – all the characters are entirely unlikeable. The film is filled with stiff, duplicitous adults and battalions of bratty, aggressive pre-teens with ADHD who excel at violence. Even the characters you’re supposed to root for – Ender and his fellow cadets – are cold and seemingly devoid of compassion.

Ender's Game starring Asa Butterfield and Harrison Ford

Hood successfully translates most of the book’s more pertinent themes to the screen, but his film fails to be emotionally engaging or thought-provoking. Too often the emphasis is placed on top-notch production design and big-budget special effects instead of the story, which has been stripped down and streamlined considerably.

It is impossible to invest in an “epic” space battle when 99.9% of everything whizzing past you is computer-generated. Everything looks like a video game cut scene, with shiny, over-polished pixels smashing into each other while kids dual wield touchscreen displays to control yet more pixels.

Ender’s Game does, however, have its moments – the Battle School zero-gravity games are exquisitely choreographed – but wooden performances, unlikeable characters, and a story that feels rushed make Gavin Hood’s film just another disposable sci-fi flick for young adults. It isn’t nearly as bad as After Earth, but it lacks the humor and heart a film like this needs to connect to its audience.

Many have called Orson Scott Card’s novel “unfilmable” – it’s been in development Hell for 28 years after all – but the ironic part about all of this is, in an age where anything is possible through computer-generated effects, the filmmakers forgot to tell an actual story worth seeing.

Trailer

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5 Comments »

  1. I used to think it was unfilmable until the comic adaption which was pretty good, and fairly faithful to the novel. Wished it could have been great, but the reviews seem to all put it as okay.

    Still, it’s step in the right direction for more SF that is about something other than CGI and non-sensical action set pieces.

    Comment by jsmith0552 — November 1, 2013 @ 11:55 am

  2. I finished the novel a few weeks ago, and the majority of the characters are *supposed* to be unlikable. The adults are *supposed* to be duplicitous, and the teens are *supposed* to be extremely violent. Perhaps the way the reader connects with Ender is through his explanations to Valentine, Graff, and a few others of why he takes certain actions, but overall the novel is cold and frankly stunned me with its ruthlessness. However, I haven’t seen the movie yet (unsure if I will see it) so I’m not sure how well the movie portrays the feeling of the book, and whether it truly focuses on effects and sensationalism over the actual story (which I admit a lot of movies do). I’m usually one who holds books and movies as separate creations even if they’re supposed to be the same story, but it can help to have some expectation of what the feel of one or the other is *supposed* to be. Have you read it? If you did, do you think the movie carries off the book’s tone? If you didn’t, do you think your opinion would change after you read the book?

    Comment by EmBee — November 1, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

  3. I have read the book, I think it matches the tone at times but most of the backstory has been cut out and the side-stories involving Valentine and Peter have been all but erased – the whole film seems to take place over the course of 20 days instead of several years.

    Comment by thefraze — November 1, 2013 @ 10:48 pm

  4. I enjoyed the movie and, despite missing bits from the original book, thought it carried the same tone as the book, albeit perhaps a bit watered down so it would work on the screen. A decent sci-fi film too I thought.

    Comment by Andy Barbieri — November 4, 2013 @ 5:13 am

  5. Thanks for the clarification, I wasn’t sure. The side stories are so, so important to the main plot! Knowing that some of the key bits are missing is so disappointing, especially when you need those side stories to understand what’s really going on in Ender’s head. What a shame. Again, thanks for the clarification! (And now that I know you’ve read the book, I’m very impressed that you focused your review on the merits of the movie alone, and thankful you saved the comparison of book-to-movie for comments like mine!)

    Comment by EmBeeBee — November 4, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

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