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Ender's Game Review

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First published in 1985, and aimed at teenagers, Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, about a young boy drafted into a future Earth's military to fight a mysterious alien race, soon spawned a massive, award winning science fiction epic, with the first two books in the series being cited as two of the most influential sci-fi novels of the 1980's. It's depiction of the military, and the mindset of the soldiers within it, have made the book required reading for the U.S. Marine Corps. A film adaption of the novel has been in the works since 2003, and now it finally makes it's way to the big screen, a highly entertaining sci-fi actioner, keeping some of the books bigger ideas intact, proving that director Gavin Hood's detestable X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a blip on his radar.


In the future, our planet was attacked by a fearsome alien race known as The Formics, the earth only surviving thanks the strategic genius of Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley). To prepare for the next invasion, the International Fleet have begun training the best and brightest children, looking for the next Mazer. They may have found it in Andrew 'Ender' Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a shy but strategically brilliant 12 year old. Brought into Battle School, under the tutelage of General Graff (Harrison Ford), Ender begins his training to one day lead the International Fleet in destroying the Formic's once and for all.

The script, written by Hood, does make some changes from the original novel, but they are acceptable changes when moving from one medium to the other. Most of the kids are aged up, Ender himself is six when the novel begins, and much of the story condensed from several years to a handful of months. The biggest casualty is the subplot involving Ender's siblings (played here by Abigail Breslin and Jeremy Pinchak, who are wasted in their roles) bringing about social and political change on Earth using the Global Communication System (think the Internet). But it is a welcome cut, as it would have only slowed down an already packed narrative. The movie wastes no time in setting up the story, and Hood creates a totally immersive world, one that is cold and clinical, representing the views of the military world Ender finds himself. Most of the action is centered on Ender's training, giving it the feeling of a science fiction Harry Potter, or better yet, a kid friendly Starship Troopers. We follow our hero as he is manipulated by Graff, using Ender's anger and analytical mind to shape him into the ultimate leader. These scenes are by far the most interesting and entertaining, giving us great insights into the characters, and represents the weightier ideas of the novel. An anti-bullying message is to the fore, and the moral grey areas of war are explored in great detail, from high command's view of their soldiers on the ground, to the metal toll burying your emotions to better serve the cause has. They are big themes to have in a movie aimed at kids wanting some sci-fi action, and may be lost on some of the younger members of the audience, but it does elevate Ender's Game above the usual effects heavy sci-fi fare.

As well as the big ideas, Hood also delivers some big visuals, with the Battle School's zero gravity battles (think Quidditch) being the standout. They are played out slow and deliberate, every piece of action caught cleanly and perfectly, with some shots looking absolutely beautiful. The finale is also worth noting, a massive, high stakes space battle that will have some at the edge of their seats. It is let down slightly by an ending that wraps everything far too quickly, but does leave the movie open for a sequel.

With the whole movie on his shoulders, Asa Butterfield does a fine job as Ender, growing as a character before our very eyes. The shy awkward Ender we see at the start of the movie soon gives way to a more confident leader figure, but with the same anger bubbling underneath the surface. He handles himself nicely with the more intense scenes in the films second and third acts, where he could have easily devolved into a whiny brat. Harrison Ford proves to be more than stunt casting, adding the movie a bit of weight by having a sci-fi legend in its cast, giving a voice to the shades of grey the movie explores. He may deliver some of the clunkier lines of dialogue, but he brings Graff to life nicely, cutting an imposing figure full of bluster. Sadly, beyond our two main players, everybody else is given very little to do, popping in and out when the script calls for them.

Sure, it's flawed in places, but Ender's Game is a thoroughly entertaining slice of sci-fi, presenting an absolutely compelling story that will stay with you for a long time.




 

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