****1/2 (out of 5)
November 1, 2013
Asa Butterfield as ENDER WIGGIN
Harrison Ford as COLONEL GRAFF
Hailee Steinfeld as PETRA ARKANIAN
Abigail Breslin as VALENTINE WIGGIN
Ben Kingsley as MAZER RACKHAM
Viola Davis as MAJOR ANDERSON
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Directed by: Gavin Hood
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I’m not as much of a reader as I once was. It’s not just because I’m swamped with work, which entails watching movies and writing about them. Life gets in the way of reading. In particular, family and kids can be a real drain on your time. One of the big regrets I have as I have grown older is that I don’t have the time for casual reading that I used to.
However, back when I was an avid reader in college, I picked up Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game.” I didn’t love it, but I recognized is as a solid story with a lot of interesting issues. I enjoyed it, and for years afterwards, I heard rumor after rumor that Hollywood would be making it into a movie. However, the state of visual effects at the time lumped the book into the category of being “unfilmable,” where it stayed for years.
Now, Summit Entertainment has given it a go with Gavin Hood at the helm. The movie tells the story of Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a boy who has been recruited to train for a war against an invading army from another planet. The insect-like species had attempted an earlier invasion of Earth, but through an heroic act of one fighter pilot, they were defeated. Now, the International community is taking the fight to the bugs’ home world before they can attack again. Ender must learn to be a leader of his peers and rise to the top of his assigned post in time to fight against the enemy.
It’s been about 20 years since I read the book, and my memory isn’t what it used to be. However, by my recollection, this film sticks pretty close to the events and themes presented in Card’s novel. In many ways, “Ender’s Game” has a distinct teen literature feel to it. That’s not a dig at the film, but rather an observation. You can’t help but escape these moments when there are themes of popularity, teen social structure and peer friction like we see in the movie.
However, these elements of the film are dealt with more like how you’d find them in a piece of military science fiction (bringing back memories of the underrated and quite well done “Starship Troopers” rather than shades of “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”). We see how Ender navigates his peers and manipulates the situation to come out on top, even if he has to get knocked down in the process.
Helping keep the adult perspective in the film are Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis), who serve as essential narrators to the story. They point out the subtleties in Ender’s experiences so the scenes themselves can be presented with a certain level of restraint.
This is a big, effects-driven movie, of course. A studio doesn’t spend $100 million on a movie like this without having a certain degree of spectacle. The state of visual effects allow the unfilmable aspects of the film to actually be committed to screen, and it looks fantastic. In this sense, “Ender’s Game” can join other science fiction films from 2013 like “Oblivion” (which had a mediocre plot and was burdened by Tom Cruise as a star, but still looked brilliant on screen) and “Gravity” as must-see big-screen movies.
But beyond the sci-fi spectacle, “Ender’s Game” delivers a strong story that works for teens and the younger generation while dealing with heavier issues such as the nature of war, regret, guilt, sacrifice and suffering. Many elements of the original story have been simplified for the big screen, and the cram the near-400-page novel into a two hour film, so don’t go in expecting a full preservation of everything you’ve read (if you’ve even read the book).
Ultimately, I was impressed with “Ender’s Game” and enjoyed it more than I ever expected. It’s got great pacing with only a few stumbles along the way. The movie is a thrilling experience that is worth trekking to the theater to see. I don’t know if it’ll pave the way for another successful book-to-film franchise, but it was a great first installment, nonetheless.