One of the most iconic and critically acclaimed novels of all time, after nearly 30 years, has been turned into a film directed by Gavin Hood. Needless to say, Ender’s Game had a lot of hype to live up to.
The film takes place 70 years after a war with an alien race called the Formics. Human beings were nearly pushed to the brink of extinction only to have one strategic flight commander save everyone. After the war, the military-centric government of the future decided that, should an additional war follow, that humanity’s salvation lies with strategic minds rather than pure military force. Children are trained from birth to be the best to find the next brilliant commander. The program is headed by Colonel Graff, played by Harrison Ford. He has found the prodigy in question by the name of Ender Wiggin, played by Asa Butterfield. Through a series of training scenes and montages, we are shown his growth and development as he is turned to the commander of the troops.
Perhaps the most underrated portion of the film is the actors. More often than not, whenever there are child actors at the forefront, there is nothing but bad reads and a complete lack of emotion as each line is recited haphazardly and completely devoid of emotion. Although Butterfield must do this to come off as the rational, overly logical character of Ender, the rest of the acting is very well done. When one of them is upset, we can tell by what they are doing and how they are speaking. Unfortunately, their speaking tends to get a little old.
Film is a medium of “show, don’t tell.” One of the greatest issues with Ender’s Game is that because there is so much of the novel that they attempted to squeeze into a two-hour film, the characters have to explain some of the more subtle goings on rather than show it over the course of a scene. The time constraint is a great hindrance to the movie not just for the rushed pacing and the therefore narrated scenes, but for the entire format of the film. When making a film based on a book, there are certain scenes that must be transposed from the literary world to the cinematic. The key is to keep them flowing in a smooth, intelligent narrative that tells as much of the story as possible, such as with Lord of the Rings orRequiem for a Dream. With Ender’s Game, it felt as though the film was running through a sort of checklist; going through the scenes that they must to satisfy the author and please the fans while accommodating the short run time allotted to the film. As a result, the tone of each scene never feels quite right, the twist at the end of the film doesn’t have a legitimate payoff due a complete lack of buildup and the pacing feels as though we are just going from scene to scene with no regard to the passage of time or the long term emotional impact on any of the characters.
The visuals are quite stunning. It appears as though that is where a large portion of the budget has gone to, and it doesn’t disappoint. The settings feel completely real, and the environments are borderline immersive, even when viewing the film in 2-D. It doesn’t quite compensate for many of the film’s other shortcomings, but if one is going to spend two hours watching a chronologically sound but otherwise jumbled series of events, at least there will be something nice to look at .
The fact of the matter is Ender’s Game is not a bad movie. There are several likeable, well-written and enjoyable characters. The visuals are very well done, and the story itself, while not completely original, is very well told. However, the pacing is too rushed to fully appreciate the positive aspects of the film, the characters aren’t given enough time to be fully flushed out and none of the buildup is sufficient to get a worthwhile payoff. As a result, the film leaves you disappointed and wanting more.
This a far cry from the worst movie of 2013, but there are many better. Two stars out of four.
Watch the trailer here.