Film adaptation of popular science-fiction novel stays true to story

Ender’s Game sees remarkable performances from young, old cast alike

By Jeffrey Robinowitz

Someone from the production of Ender’s Game should send Christiane Kubrick some flowers as a way of thanking her husband. One part 2001: A Space Odyssey and another part Full Metal Jacket, director Gavin Hood’s adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s classic science- fiction novel, Ender’s Game, is an excellent film that has something for everyone in the family.

The older actors’ work in the film is solid and unsurprising. Stalwart veterans Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, and Ben Kingsley remind us all why we love them, but don’t really give us any new reasons to love them. Ford is tough and gruff, Davis provides an emotional and caring counterpoint to Ford, and Kingsley is just as strange and unusual as always. Their roles aren’t challenging, but these stars still turn in great supporting performances.

The supporting cast of child actors, which includes established names like Abigail Breslin and Haliee Steinfeld, is superb. Movies centered on young characters often fail just because of weak and inexperienced child actors. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. From the kids Ender encounters during his training to the final few he selects to join him on his mission to save humanity, every character is memorably and believably brought to life by an outstanding cast of talented actors. Even characters with little screen time are thoroughly entertaining and interesting.

Ultimately, it is Asa Butterfield as the titular Andrew “Ender” Wiggin that absolutely shines above all others. The character Ender is an excellent mix of a cold and calculating military genius and a typical adolescent struggling to fit in. Normally such characters are clichéd. However, it is the act of combining these two archetypes into a single being that makes Ender such a fascinating character who appeals to a wide variety of readers.

Much like the recent depiction of Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Ender has a professional and a personal identity, neither of which is a challenge to Butterfield. As a misfit, Ender is the embodiment of childhood isolation and sadness, while the brilliant soldier Ender is calculating and hyper-focused. The moments when these two sides clash give Butterfield his best opportunities to really perform. Ender’s slow realization that incredible power is being placed in his uncertain hands is compelling and perfectly executed. Butterfield is neither too sappy nor too dramatic, and these scenes become the emotional highpoints of the film.

Hood also took note of the fact that Bruce Wayne’s persona also has his humorous moments. Ender’s few comedic moments provide a great amount of relief in a moment that is rather dark for kids.

The writing for the whole film is sharp. The dialogue is quick and painless with a few clever lines here and there that actually stick. Since the film is more about its visual and emotional impact rather than an analytic impact, the script doesn’t use a lot of big words and there aren’t any major monologues but simple dialogue isn’t a bad thing.

In fact, the film’s lack of intentionally in-your-face writing is actually a good thing. This is especially great since kids’ movies often feature dialogue written in a very direct manner so as to ensure that the kids understand what’s going on. Here, writing is uncomplicated and punctual, neither of which is a wholly bad thing.

The story is well-made with a standard, but effective three-act structure. The unique universe the film is set in, which includes an ant-like alien race, amazing space stations, and fantastic starships and weapons, is the story’s strongest feature. None of these things are brand new creations that are unique to this film alone, but that doesn’t stop them from still being cool. An anti-gravity field where child military cadets fight each other using laser stun guns located inside a giant space station orbiting the Earth? How could that not be awesome?

The mood is also very powerful, especially near the end of the film where the emotions are so strong that all the pain Ender experiences is directly absorbed by the audience.

Unfortunately, the pacing of the first act does hurt the film. At the beginning of the film, very little time is devoted to setting the scene and introducing the characters. As a result, I found myself bored with the events that occur during the first 15 minutes of the film. None of it had an impact on me because I had no context to judge it by.

The production, much like the acting, contains relatively standard specific effects one expects to find in a contemporary science-fiction films with a few standout sequences that really catch the eye. Effects like rocket ships blasting off, enemy space ships whizzing by, and Earth looming large in the background are all done well; they just aren’t anything special.

However, later sequences in which Ender runs battle simulations with a Minority Report like touch screen are frantic and exhilarating. The zero gravity scenes are also great, and, while not nearly as impressive as the effects in this year’s Gravity, they still fill the audience with a sense of wonder and magic. The set largely succeeds in creating a futuristic world, but again nothing about long white hall ways and squeaky-clean military barracks are all that amazing or original.

Having never read the books, I was surprised by the amount of thematic content present in the film. The question of “right or wrong” is the central idea explored in the film and I appreciated the fact that, while the movie does present certain characters as being more righteous than others, everyone is still justified in their actions — at least, they are convinced their actions are justified.

The film also takes some big swings at the military-industrial complex, the degree to which the government and the military are truthful, and our seeming obsession with violence. There’s not enough screen time to evenly cover all these ideas, but that might be a good thing. In order to take these concepts to their outer limits, the film would probably have to make so many changes to its structure that it would derive a lot of the quality the film already possesses. Instead of getting bogged down in moral and political philosophy, the movie touches on them just enough to get the audience thinking.

In conclusion, Ender’s Game is a great film. I don’t know if there’s enough in it to warrant repeated viewings, but I do know that there’s certainly enough in it to warrant at least one viewing.

First-year Jeffrey Robinowitz is a staff writer. His email is jrobinow@fandm.edu.

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