‘Ender’s Game’ Movie Review – Clunky but Commendable
Some stories, much like cheap wine, don’t age well. On the flip side, plenty of stories get better with time, hence the saying “aging like a fine wine.” Gavin Hood’s (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) Ender’s Game is an overdue film adaptation of one of the most popular novels. In a time where anything and everything is being adapted, it’s certainly strange it took 28 years for the Hugo Award-winning military drama by Orson Scott Card to reach theaters. Fortunately, the story has aged like fine wine rather than cheap wine, making the material arguably more relevant today than back in 1985. The film adaptation isn’t without its faults, but in the big picture of things, it’s got plenty of depth and emotion when it needs it most.
Set around 2086, Ender’s Game takes place after a huge war between humans and a mysterious alien race named “Formics.” When the Formics failed to overtake Earth, the human race went into a paranoid frenzy with the expectation that they were biding time and setting up reinforcements to come back and destroy the human race. With nowhere else to go, they create a Battle School for pre-teen soldiers in the hopes that they’ll be the “blank slate” soldiers and commanders that can accurately eliminate the enemy.
The ultimate soldier – a boy Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) believes is Earth’s last chance – is a 12(ish)-year-old named Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield). The movie basically shows his rapid progression through Battle School, Command School, and it eventually builds to a point I don’t want to ruin.
It’s 2013 and with the ever-growing amount of movies adapted from books, I hope we’re past the point of directly comparing the two mediums. Books will always trump movies simply because there is more detail and imagination. You get to create the pictures in your mind and fill in the blanks while understanding a character more fully than possible simply in a visual story (i.e. a movie).
Because of this, we can’t get a full story in the movie like the book. Since the book takes place over a longer period of time, the movie had to make a conscious decision to accelerate the narrative. Unless we wanted a five hour movie, this was probably a good decision. This does have unfortunate side effects, though, because there are ham-fisted sections of exposition.
However, I do think Ender’s Game (the movie) succeeds better in some ways than even the book because some parts of the book are tough to imagine. The Battle School and the subsequent battles are tough to visualize because they’re not like anything we’ve really seen before. The same goes for the mysterious mind games Ender plays in his free time. Both these apsects are a welcome sight for people, like me, who struggled imagining them.
Ender’s Game is near its best when it is visually appealing. Being a futuristic sci-fi movie, technology has definitely helped the dated source material. I can’t imagine the movie looking any better than it already does…but I guess that’s the power of the future.
The story isn’t forced to be just a visual masterpiece, though, and like any good movie, it’s the plot and conflict that really pushes the movie up a notch. Visuals are important, but nothing beats a good story. And while I have small issues (highlighted above) with the script, I think the execution – primarily in the third act – is right on point. Say what you want about the rapid pace and the forced exposition, but it all goes away when Ender confronts Graff after the climax.
If you could boil a movie down to one scene, this confrontation would be a perfect microcosm for the entire film. It mixes the great lead performances (by both the young Butterfield and the already established Ford) with the social commentary that is very relevant today.
Even though this is a November release, Gavin Hood’s Ender’s Game has the look and feel of a typical blockbuster. If judging it against other blockbusters, it establishes a relevant narrative to today unlike most sci-fi movies. In some ways, it reminds me of Star Trek Into Darkness (yes, that’s a compliment). In the end, it’s probably not quite as sleek and stunning, but damn it’s close. Ender’s Game is about the best adaptation you could expect from a complicated and clunky plot that may not transfer over to screen. Hood does his best to make the film work and his effort and execution is appreciated by at least one fan.
Ender’s Game is available now in wide release. Check your local listings for the nearest theater!
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