2013 is turning out to be quite a year for science fiction and fantasy as “Ender’s Game” turns out to be worth its (rather large) budget.
Based on Orson Scott Card’s famous short story, director/screen writer Gavin Hood delivers a slick, decently sophisticated morality tale about making a generation of child killers trained to fight off alien invasion. “Ender’s Game” ends up being a sort of combination of “The Last Starfighter” and “Starship Troopers,” but without the comedic (unintentional or otherwise) aspects of those two films.
Harrison Ford is suitably stoic in a large role as the man in charge of the cadets and Asa Butterfield is the kid who might or might not have the right stuff. Both are excellent in the film, which has top notch production value. The special effects (Digital Domain), music (Steve Jablonsky), photography (Donald McAlpine), sets and sound effects are all excellent. The money went on the screen, which is always a good thing in a special-effects film. The supporting cast is also very good and there’s good chemistry between them. All in all, it’s a very professional, polished flick.
The story itself (which was published in the mid-’80s), about children being groomed to actually plan the assault on alien invaders, once seemed a little outlandish. But now it seems much more plausible with the rise of advanced video games and reports about children 3 and younger being proficient with tablets. The original story had more of a “The Twilight Zone” feel to it, something this film wisely avoids, as it simply wouldn’t have worked for a full length film. Also plausible are the training sequences which, while not terribly gritty, are realistic enough. All in all, there’s a lot to like about this film, which maintains a quick pace and is light on its feet despite a ton of special effects.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
That said, I’d like to have seen more of the society so desperate that it turns to 10-year-olds to win a total war of annihilation. Part of the problem is that everything’s shiny and new; the surface of Earth seems untouched, and while the characters reference the fact that Earth is overpopulated, there’s zero evidence that’s actually the case. There are several times in the film where characters seem too concerned with individual lives — a little silly considering that the entire human race is at stake. All of which — combined with all the futuristic scenes in space (which is like 95 percent of the film) — tends to undercut the believability of Earth actually being endangered.
The dialogue, while workman like, won’t be quoted at sci-fi conventions 20 years from now. Certainly not bad, but it certainly doesn’t “sing” either.
Still, it’s a very good movie and like most good movies, it leaves some things up to the audience. Ford’s character in particular might seem heroic or villainous depending on your point of view. The black and white message “The only good bug is a dead bug” of “Starship Troopers” isn’t so clear in “Ender’s Game,” which is, generally speaking, a little more interesting, at least as a morality tale.
This is a strong movie that definitely should be caught in theaters while you can.
GIVING CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE
“Ender’s Game” was written and directed by Gavin Hood. It stars Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Ben Kingsley.