Director: Gavin Hood
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Abigail Breslin
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Length: 114 Minutes
Buy on Amazon!
Buy on Amazon!
Based off the 1985 book of the same name, Ender’s Game looks to bring Orson Scott Card’s story to the big screen in a big way. The cast features an ensemble of acting legends, and its futuristic looking sets and CG design don’t look cheap.
The leads and veteran actors all deliver strong performances and for fans of the book, the film is incredibly faithful to Card’s story – although it does omit most of the Valentine and Peter subplot. With an awarding winning novel to adapt and a strong cast, Ender’s Game appeared to be on the right track to making a great science fiction film.
Unfortunately it doesn’t. While this adaptation has its moments; its transitioning, pacing, and occasional awkward exchange of dialogue make this film feel like you’re riding in a beat up car with no suspension. It’s the smaller aspects of good filmmaking that ultimately stop Ender’s Game from creating the truly powerful film adaptation that Card’s novel needed.
After an invasion by the Formics, an alien bug species that nearly destroys humanity in 2086, the leaders of Earth set about training new battle commanders at a very young age in order to combat against the alien species. Earth looks to find the next Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) the brilliant commander that defeated the Formics last time.
Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) is put in charge of training future battle commanders and he believes the next Rackham – the next person to save Earth – will be a young child named Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield).
Ender’s Game is a mixed bag when it comes to visuals. The space ship that the battle training takes place in looks like a film set, more than it looks like a spaceship. The uniforms that the kids wear have a hokey aesthetic to them. The graphics from the video game sequences look worse than the graphics you would see in many video games currently for sale today. However, the battle room with the outer-space back drop looks fantastic. The scenes that take place there really help bring to life a lot of the battle sequences. The tactics Ender used in the book are now a lot easier to visualize.
Ender’s Game was a book that put forth some interesting questions about violence, and some cold hearted ideas about the nature of pragmatism and strategy. Keeping that in mind the 2013 film adaptation looks to explore these same ideas, but it is unable to capitalize on delivering the cruelty of these ideas in way that emotionally engages the audience. Sure they are explored on an intellectual level – and this film, like the book, could strike up a lot of interesting conversations about its subject matter – but emotionally this film just doesn’t cut it.
Ford is both crusty in demeanor and calculating in intention as he portrays Colonel Graff. This has to be one of the strongest performances from Ford in a long time, who’s big budget films have struggled over the past decade. Asa Butterfield is able to hold his own as the film’s lead, especially considering the talent surrounding him. But at the risk of sounding like a complete asshole, his not fully developed voice can be extremely distracting, and this can really lessen the film’s impact during the more intense scenes. The standout acting performance belongs to Ben Kingsley who’s incantations as Mazer Rackham shift seamlessly between being subtle and bizarre.
I did not expect this film to be as loyal as it did to Card’s book. I appreciate the effort that went into making the film loyal to its source material, but there were times where it felt Ender’s Game could have made itself a better film by deviating from its source material. This is particularly true with the sequences where Ender plays the video game and the film shifts into a horrible looking video game visual. This could have been switched into a series of dream sequences that would not only have looked better on film, but it would have been able to support the plot in much stronger way.
The biggest problem though with Ender’s Game is the pacing and transitions. Some scenes have extra-added dialogue that doesn’t need to be there. There are a number of cheesy moments like the military cadences uttered by the recruits, and the whole saluting sequence between Ender and Dap – both of these ideas didn’t belong in the movie and should have been cut out. The focus on how special Ender is can be a bit cumbersome, and the film only briefly touches upon why that’s so important to the story. For non-book readers, this aspect of the film could be irritating.
Ender’s Game looks to combine big budget movie making with the deep, albeit controversial, ideas found in Card’s book. (These controversial ideas are not Card’s views on homosexual marriage, none of which thankfully make their way into this film). While the ideas, characters, and most of the performances are there, the film can’t execute them in an aesthetically satisfying way.