Ender’s Game

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Release: Friday, November 1, 2013

[Theater]

This reviewer deliberately avoided familiarizing himself with Orson Scott Card’s words before seeing the film adaptation, fearing that the movie would somehow disappoint — as these things often do. The result was a highly enjoyable experience from start to finish, one that remained free of any bias, complaint or comparison that would inevitably surface through different scenes, had I read the original material. Therefore, this is me putting a huge asterisk at the top of this review.

On its own, Ender’s Game, directed by Gavin Hood (TsotsiX-Men Origins: Wolverine), is a competent action/sci-fi adventure that captures the scope and beauty of the universe as well as the complex workings of the human mind. An especially gifted child, named Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is taken suddenly out of his school on Earth and placed into an international fleet of kids of a similar age who are receiving specific military training to fight off humanity’s greatest threat — extraterrestrial beings known as the Formics.

Recognized as something of a prodigy, the Neo of ten-year-olds, Ender instantly earns the attention of the highly-respected Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), and for the same reason, finds himself the pariah of his class. Constantly picked on because he has a mind of his own, which is principally what attracts his higher-ups’ attention, Ender doesn’t have the luxury of friends. It seems like it’s going to be hell away from Earth in this orbiting space station.

But as Ender becomes more integrated into his training and the military life in space, his strongest assets — an ability to remain calm, think rationally and strategically, and perhaps most interestingly of all, his wanting to question authority (his clashes with the nasty Bonzo Madrid, played by The Kings of Summer‘s Moises Arias serve as some of the better moments) — begin to garner the respect of his peers. Graff is perpetually reminded of what a good choice he made with this kid.

Unbeknownst to Ender, though, Graff’s breeding him for something much larger than simply taking orders on a daily basis. His ultimate plan is to have Ender, as strong-minded as he is, lead an entire fleet of ships in a final confrontation with the Formics — an effort which hopefully would wipe out this race of invaders permanently, and ultimately bring peace to humanity. To get to this stage Graff has Major Anderson draft a series of simulations and ‘training’ programs to prepare the youngster for the real battle. Indeed, it’s not so much the end game that’s kept a secret from Ender; everyone tells him — not the least of which being Colonel Graff — how special he is, and his intelligence affords him the realization that he’s not there to be just another young military personnel. It’s how he is conned into being the greatest pawn that ultimately will bring Ender to his knees, making him doubt the validity of everything that has ever been taught to him. Will he be mentally tough enough to handle this day, when (not if) it comes?

There is a decidedly relaxed atmosphere to the proceedings that makes Ender’s Game a very fun watch, even if the film doesn’t quite blast off for thrilling territory. Gavin Hood’s adaptation is very much your standard exposition-heavy film until a gigantic CGI climax puts the finishing touches upon everything we’ve been shown. But even this event — the battle — is relatively low-key in its dramatic appeal.

When it comes to looking at the pacing of the film, this is where not having read the book really becomes an advantage. The film is enjoyable in its own right, though its far from being devoid of weaknesses.

There are many moments that linger simply far too long, the edits of which would help make the film flow more evenly and make particular scenes more meaningful. With all of this said, though, the rest of the film really is quite something. It’s visually dazzling and the performances brought on by Ford, Butterfield and Ben Kingsley (who plays Mazer Rackham, regarded as one of humanity’s best odds of having a savior given his heroic actions in the past) are all a great deal of fun to experience. The tattoos obscure Kingsley’s face enough to make you forget he was at one point the Mandarin, so that’s a success in itself.

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3-5Recommendation: Ender’s Game is more often than not compelling viewing, made more so if you go in without having preconceived notions of how the central characters are meant to act, feel or look like; of how the tone and atmosphere are established; of how we face down the enemy. All of these things could wind up being some level of inaccurate in the adaptation otherwise, and fortunately I was spared this extra complication by not even so much as knowing about the book until a few weeks before this release. I give the director at least this credit: if I wasn’t entirely interested in the book before this film, I most definitely am now. I will be picking up a copy in the very near future.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “I’ll do everything I can to win this war.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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20 thoughts on “Ender’s Game

    • Hey Victor, thanks kindly. I eagerly await what you have to say, and I sincerely hope you enjoy it. It’s not a blockbuster as it first appeared to be, but it’s compelling enough to make for great Sat eve entertainment!

  1. Pingback: The 2013 DigiBread Awards | digitalshortbread

    • I think it could be worth your ticket purchase! It’s not the most legendary of films by any means but it looks good and is some good popcorn fun for awhile. Enough for this reviewer! 😀

  2. Oh man. I went in fresh, not having read the book, so I had no pre-conceived notions either. But Ender’s Game as a film failed as an interesting story. It was completely generic, teens train to fight space wars. The narrative made the protagonist the anointed savior right from the start. It then had him succeed at everything he tried so as to eliminate any dramatic tension. I wrote a very long review listing what I didn’t like so I won’t go on with the details, but yeah, I did not enjoy this film.

    This was bad sci-fi. Not just “Oblivion” bad, but “Battlefield Earth” bad.

    P.S. It’s the film I didn’t like. Your review, as always, is well written. 🙂

    • lol thanks! I understand all that for sure. I was a little annoyed by how easily everything came to Ender — if he was supposed to be this truly special kid, we were just being *told* that and not shown it so much. it’s like in poetry — you’ve gotta let the writing do the showing, not just flat-out telling people what’s happening. This was definitely a bad case of that. It also got a bit overdramatic towards the end, but for what it’s worth I was going in completely expecting it to suck and it didn’t so I actually enjoyed myself! sometimes that’s all it takes.

    • my lack of familiarity with the way the book plays out helped me say more positive things, that’s for sure. But there’s a lot to like, honestly, on its own merits. The CGI is freakin’ unbelievable and I thought it was quite fun, even though there’s a good lack of action honestly. It’d be a great rental, if anything else. 🙂

    • cheers, good sir! I urge if you’re going to see it see before reading the book, this is apparently the way to watch this one. 🙂 I enjoyed it, even though it was likely a great simplification of Orson Scott Card’s vision.

  3. The book is hugely famous so I expected a bigger hit. This sci-fi did comparable numbers to After Earth. Ouch!

    There are so many other films out right now I’d rather see. (i.e. Blue Is the Warmest Color, Kill Your Darlings, Dallas Buyers Club) Probably a rental at this point.

    • Wow, that’s rather sad. After Earth numbers? :\ Oh well. As with many film adaptations, there’s bound to be devotees to the source material; perhaps a lot of them really weren’t interested in seeing the film. That said, you just listed everything I want to see, almost in that exact order for the next month or so! Haha. What are the odds.

  4. I keep hearing good things and excitement about this. I will wait for it to come though, I have to choose wisely what I will be seeing this month. Awesome review though, makes me more interested in checking it out.

    • Thanks! LIke I said, i think this really benefitted from me not reading the book beforehand, but now I really really want to read the book. I understand the story to be quite excellent. It was fun to watch here, but I can see where a lot of the heart and soul of a book becomes lost on film.

      • SO MUCH of a book gets lost in a film (yep, frequent rant of mine). Will look into this, but I will watch it first, then read the book. That way I won’t rage and punch the screen maybe? 😛

  5. You won’t regret reading the book. As I said in my own review of this flick, the novel is much better.

    It’s interesting, by the way. As someone who has read the novel (even taught it multiple times), I think the movie’s pacing is quite good.

    • Wow, that’s great to hear! Another applause goes to this film, in that case. And I really look forward to getting to the book. Thanks for reading man.

      • Oh, incidentally. Since you already know the twist, you should read Ender’s Shadow, one of the sequels, too. It takes place in the same timeline, but is from Bean’s perspective and assumes you know what happens at the end of Ender’s Game. I think it might actually be superior to Ender’s Game, as a literary accomplishment.

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