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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 10.31.13] scifi action drama

Though it's been in development in some form or other for decades, Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" has long been considered one of those unfilmable works, a novel of so much strength and so many deep ideas that a screen adaptation would never work. Over the last few years, the combination of technology and savvy writing has brought other previously unfilmable titles to the big screen, some more successfully than others, and when it was announced that director Gavin Hood would direct Ender's Game, there was excitement that the novel, a favourite of many, would finally get a movie adaptation but also concern that no one could ever do it justice.

The story unfolds in the far future where Earth has been attacked and nearly decimated by insectoid aliens known as Formics. Highly developed and excellent strategists with apparently unlimited numbers, the Formic invasion was barely averted and since the attack, humanity has come together to find and train the best young minds to command an attack on the Formics' home planet, ending the threat for good. Smart and driven, Ender (Asa Butterfield) appears to be that great commander but he's also a child, one torn between empathy and violence. Recognizing his talents, Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) recruits Ender into Command School where the child is primed for the role of leading the entire fleet in one final battle.

Those that have read Card's novel know that there's much more at play here and those new to the universe of Ender's Game will discover a story that is rich in themes and ideas, some better structured and presented than others. Hood, who also took on the role of adapting the novel, has done an excellent job of including many of the ideas of the story while highlighting concepts which are very timely in the wake of current events. Ender's Game explores not only big concepts of war and why we fight but also more intimate themes around what makes a great soldier, and it's this latter concept that's central to Ender's personal struggle.

Though packaged as a big budget action blockbuster, the truth is that Ender's Game is an introspective story about a boy's very personal struggle dealing with the pressures around him, from bullying to the expectation of his elders who are, almost by brute force, shaping him into a leader. There is action but it's secondary to the story and frankly, most of it is uninteresting.

The zero-g training sequences which dominate a large part of the novel are condensed into a few key scenes in which Ender shows his skill as a tactician and his ability to lead. They're not exactly heart pounding but they're very well constructed and provide great insight into Ender and the way he thinks. The Command School battle sequences are far less interesting in nearly every respect. The ships look cool but in showing the scale of the attack and the threat, most of the detail is lost and other than a few close ups of the ships and of the Formic home world, it looks like a bunch of dots swimming from place to place (their movement is reminiscent of the way the sentinels move in The Matrix). It's a bit like Homeworld with all of the ships buzzing about and lasers shooting all over the place.

Though it occasionally falls into the trap of exposition (the scenes between Graff and Major Anderson (Viola Davis), the shrink who monitors the mental state of the recruits, are particularly laborious and repetitive), the voice over utilized throughout doesn't work and the action sequences are mostly bland, Ender's Game is impressive. The performances, particularly from the young cast, are great, the technical aspects, everything from the art design to the score, are excellent but most importantly, Hood captures the essence of the novel and translates it to the screen in such a way that the movie maintains the themes and ideas of the source material. They're not always fully realized or explored and this is problematic considering how complicated some of the big picture ideas are and how easily they can be misinterpreted, but the fact that they're here at all, at the forefront of a movie that, by all exterior appearances, is a big budget action spectacle, is ballsy.

Even with the problems, I really enjoyed Ender's Game. The action sequences which will initially attract a large portion of the audience bored me to near tears but these are largely outweighed by the focus on Ender and his struggle. It's in these dramatic moments that Ender's Game really works and thankfully, there's plenty of that to go around.

Ender's Game opens Friday, November 1.

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MaceyJ (8 years ago) Reply

I thought its just gonna be another movie about children being moulded to be warriors. It was but the movie was well made and made me think.

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