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Ender's Game
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Ko-Dan, Take Me Away!"
2 stars

Although I have been a voracious reader for virtually all my life, save for the period from my birth to the age of 3 and that dark time when "The Bridges of Madison County" was all the rage, I have never been much of a follower of the science-fiction and fantasy genres. Oh sure, I have read and occasionally even enjoyed some of the classics over the years but for whatever reason, it is a form of storytelling that has just never held that much appeal to me. That said, I must confess that from time to time, I wonder on what kind of literary riches that I may be depriving myself of because of this vaguely defined prejudice of mine. However, after watching a film like "Ender's Game," an adaptation of the widely acclaimed 1977 story by Orson Scott Card (later expanded into a full novel in 1985), I don't feel as if I am missing too much. Obviously, a movie is not the same as the book but based on the plodding and derivative nature of the film, I can only assume that either Hollywood has once again done a great disservice to brilliant source material or that a story considered to be one of the high-water marks of the genre simply was not that good in the first place because the resulting film is little more than "Starship Troopers" sans the edgy satire and unisex showers

In the somewhat distant future, an alien race known as the Formics attack Earth and countless millions of lives are lost in the effort to fight them off until the heroic sacrifice of pilot Mazer Rackham saves the day and sends the remaining Formic invaders back home. Fifty years later, Earth is preparing for a return from the Formic forces and it is felt that there is one special child out there with that perfect combination of skill, bravery and intelligence to lead the battle for the fate of the planet. Among those in the training program is Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a seemingly unthreatening type who prefers to use logic and reason to avoid conflicts with his fellow cadets rather than fighting with them, though he is perfectly capable of taking care of himself in that regard as well. Needless to say, this does not make him especially popular amongst his classmates and when he puts one bully in the hospital after an attack, he is booted out of the service, just as what previously happened to his older siblings, the warm and empathic Valentine (Abigail Breslin) and the hotheaded Peter (Jimmy Pinchak).

Soon afterwards, however, he is visited by the gruff Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and the warmer Major Anderson (Viola Davis) and is informed that he has, in fact, passed his fiinal test and has been admitted to the elite Battle School for further training. Upon arriving, Ender still finds himself looked upon as an outsider and his hateful group leader (Moises Arias) spends most of his time actively threatening him than training him. Fellow cadet Petra (Hailee Steinfeld) takes pity on him and helps him train on the sly and before long, Ender further develops his skills and wins the loyalty of many of the other trainees as he rises through the ranks. Watching from behind the scenes, Graff becomes more and more convinced that Ender is the one that can not only lead Earth to victory while Anderson frets about the child's emotional well-being. This is especially important as it becomes increasingly clear that there is something that they aren't telling Ender and the others about their training that could prove to be even more devastating than the actual combat for which they are preparing.

Whether this is an accurate translation of Card's original novel, I cannot say, but from what is on the screen, I cannot say that I was particularly impressed with the story. Much of it feels like elements cribbed from sources as varied as "The Hunger Games," "Harry Potter," "Star Wars" and "The Last Starfighter" and while I realize that those titles all came after the publication, that doesn't excuse writer-director Gavin Hood from failing to find a way to present the familiar interview in an interesting manner. The material is provocative enough, I suppose, but Hood seems more interested in serving up visual pyrotechnics than in grappling with weighty moral complexities and the result is a film that is nowhere near profound or thought-provoking as it clearly aspires to be. To be fair, the visuals are fairly impressive for the most part (and should be seen on the biggest possible screen for the maximum effect) but the eye candy fails to overcome the fact that Hood never manages to make us care at all about what is going on. The fate of the world is at stake and yet no one seems particularly invested in what is going on for the most part, making it somewhat difficult for those in the audience to care as well.

Much of the hype surrounding "Ender's Game" (at least the hype not involving rumored production problems or Card's anti-gay proclamations) has concerned Harrison Ford's return to the genre that made him a star for the first time since the "Star Wars" saga (assuming that you don't count "Cowboys & Aliens" and if you have any sense at all, you don't). He is in full-on grumbly mode here and while the performance isn't much in the end, he at least brings a little more commitment to the material than usual. With his enormous eyes and quietly oddball demeanor, Asa Butterfield (whom you will recall as the title character in "Hugo") is a good choice for the role of Ender but he too often feels like a bystander in his own story. In the smaller parts, Viola Davis gets her usual seven minutes or so to shine, Ben Kingsley shows up in the late innings to snack on some of the scenery and Hailee Steinfeld is kind of wasted in a throwaway role, though the film makes better use of her than that misbegotten and already-forgotten retread of "Romeo & Juliet" did.

"Ender's Game" does start to get a little interesting towards the very end as the story finally ventures into the darker and more intriguing areas it has been hinting at via an epilogue meant to throw a new perspective on the proceedings. Even then, however, the film winds up subverting itself with a coda that seems more interested in setting up a potential sequel than in dealing with the potentially provocative ideas that it has only just raised. The whole film is like that--it keeps threatening to become interesting every now and then but never quite gets there. It is like a game that looks like it could be incredibly entertaining but is sadly missing too many vital pieces to make it playable.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23736&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/31/13 17:33:39
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User Comments

8/24/19 dupadoit jam on it 4 stars
2/13/14 lee a watered down version of an amazing book. they changed pretty much everything. 1 stars
2/12/14 gc the whole movie is about watching ender getting trained...no story about the alien war 2 stars
1/29/14 oz1701 not even a brave try - should have been an anime series 1 stars
12/13/13 davofern Just a brilliant movie ! Best effects ever 5 stars
11/22/13 Patricia The movie had to rush too much through important points so the film had less of an impact 3 stars
11/05/13 KingNeutron Could have benefited from a longer running time, but I liked it 4 stars
11/04/13 Mr Right My rating is of this review by a guy who says he's not familiar w nor fond of scifi lit 1 stars
11/03/13 Bob Dog A great sci-fi movie - - I'm surprised others haven't seen how smart it is. 5 stars
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  01-Nov-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 11-Feb-2014

  25-Oct-2013 (12A)

  DVD: 11-Feb-2014

Directed by
  Gavin Hood

Written by
  Gavin Hood

  Harrison Ford
  Abigail Breslin
  Asa Butterfield
  Ben Kingsley
  Hailee Steinfeld
  Viola Davis

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