Ender’s Game

Posted: November 6, 2013 in Film reviews

Directed by Gavin Hood. Starring Asa Butterfield and Harrison Ford.

Another day, another film adaptation of an un-filmable book…it’s been that kind of a year.

It is the future, many years after Earth survived an invasion by insectoid aliens known as Formics. Earth was almost wiped out, and the Formics were only defeated because of the tactics of a pilot named Mazer Rackham. Despite having seen off the Formics, humanity is terrified that they will return, and have instituted a programme to identify children who may have the skills necessary to defeat the Formics. Such children are sent to an orbital battle school where they are trained in combat and strategy.

Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (Butterfield) is one such child, plucked from school by Colonel Graff (Ford) and sent off to battle school where he begins his training. Showing a lot of aptitude he’s promoted into the ‘army’ of a cadet named Bonzo, a young man who takes an instant dislike to Ender.

Ender must survive not only the bullying of his fellow cadets, but also the battle room, a zero gravity sphere where the cadet armies fight against one another. But does he have what it takes to command the Earth fleet in battle and defeat the Formics once and for all?

This wasn’t the film I was expecting. Although not necessarily a young adult novel, the fact that its protagonist and his fellows are teenagers suggested that Hollywood had their eyes set on another teen franchise ala Potter/Hunger Games/Twilight etc. and this is actually something a little different.

Even without reading the novel it’s clear that material has been excised from the story in order to fit it for the big screen, but though at times I suspected I’d missed out on weeks, months or even years of Ender’s story, for the most part this didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the film. Even if you’re Peter Jackson, eventually you have to trim some of a story to fit it to a running time, and at a shade under two hours, Ender’s Game is long enough to tell its story, but not so long it outstays its welcome. That said I kind of wish it had been a few minutes longer. The ending is a little rushed.

Given its young cast and space war setting and this could have been a very simplistic affair, that it isn’t is testament to the production crew. Again, whilst you get the feeling a lot of the material of the book was taken out, this remains a thoughtful, intelligent film that takes an even-handed approach to the morality of training children to fight a war.

I admired the fact that it was quite brutal as well, certainly compared to the sanitised lameness of something like the Hunger Games, and whilst it could have been grittier, given its 12A rating and blockbuster status this is a surprisingly dark film, and that is to its credit.

Asa Butterfield is magnificent in the title role, and for the most part utterly convincing as the young general in training, and it takes a good actor to stand toe to toe with Harrison Ford as he does on numerous occasions. As for Mr Ford, he gives a great performance, probably the best I’ve seen from him for a while, which kinda gives me (a new) hope for Star Wars VII. I’d thought he might only be a peripheral character in the film, but actually he’s central to the story and gets a lot of screen time, and he and Butterfield are a big part of this being such an engaging film.

Ben Kingsley is the other big name on show, but though he doesn’t get as much screen time he is quite integral to the story. His accent is a little jarring at first however, and I’m not quite sure if he’s trying to be a Kiwi or a South African…The rest of the kids around Ender do a good job, including True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld as one of Ender’s allies, and Abigail Breslin as his sister (one can only assume she was cast with one eye on possible sequels as she is a little wasted here.)

The direction is solid, if a little uninspiring at times, and the effects very well done, although this isn’t necessarily a film about giant space battles. They’re there, they’re just not the main focus of the film, really the pivot around which the story revolves is Ender’s state of mind.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the ending sent chills down my spine. A thoughtful and engaging film. Sadly I fear some may be put off by the dark tone, and others by the focus on tactics, which means a sequel is unlikely. It’s a shame because this is one of the best films this year, although I am heartily glad they made one change from the book, because if they’d called the Formics “buggers” all through the film I don’t think I could have stopped myself from giggling…

A film that will definitely ender up in my top ten come the end of the year…

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