During a press conference promoting the newest release, Ender’s Game, directed by Gavin Hood (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine“), veteran actor Harrison Ford (“Paranoia”) compared the special effects technology from the “Star Wars” franchise in 1977 to this current production.
“Back then, we would put together a plastic model out of car and boat parts, put it on a stick and flash it in front of a camera,” he said. After those comments, the roomful of press representative (many of whom had probably not seen a film made before 1987) burst into laughter. He silenced them, however, by saying, “It worked, though. Today, it’s amazing how much of a world you can create on a computer. The problem is that with a few extra keystrokes, you can overwhelm the eyes and the senses.”
That’s exactly what happens during some of Ender’s Game — the visuals which fill the screen throughout most of the first half can be overwhelming at times. Luckily, there is a strong enough story and above-average acting to carry over into the rest of the film, making it one of the best sci-fi experiences of the year.
Based on the 28-year old novel by Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game is a cornucopia of wartime drama, morals, ethics and situations where the lives and psyches of innocent children are sacrificed in the name of the state and protecting the safety of its citizens. These same topics were first discussed after the World War II bombings of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, among other cities, where hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed in the name of winning that conflict.
Here, the Earth was attacked and ravaged by an alien race called the Formics who almost destroyed humanity. The world was saved by a great space commander named Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley, “Iron Man 3“) who was able to find a weakness during a climactic battle. Since that time, a shaky peace has been formed, but the older leaders, including Colonel Graff (Ford), do not trust that the aliens can stay away and expect an attack in the near future.
It’s here that he is made aware of Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield, “Hugo”), a shy and frightfully odd young man who despite his social awkwardness, is a brilliant gamesman and strategist. He, among others, are recruited simply because of their innate abilities with war-games and other simulated battle pursuits as well as their lack of a moral center (not because they are bad, but because they just have not developed one as of yet).
Saying goodbye to his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin, “The Call“) and the rest of his family, Ender leaves home to train and learn at Battle School, located in an advanced space station orbiting the Earth. Trained in different kinds of combat and getting promoted faster than any other cadet, Ender is on the fast track to becoming a deadly killer with little or no emotions to tie him down. He soon incurs the respect and the wrath of the other students because of this success and his personality, but Graff takes him under his wing and protects him the best he can.
In addition to striving to protect the Earth from a possible invasion, the colonel also has to battle Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis, “Beautiful Creatures” ) for the heart and soul of Ender, eventually promoting him to Commander School and proclaiming him the last great hope of mankind. At this academy he is trained by Rackham himself to lead the forces of Earth in a possible final conflict with her alien enemies.
Visually stunning with impressive special effects Ender’s Game is one of the better science fiction adventure films to come along in 2013, next to “Oblivion,” which also had at its heart a war between humans and otherworldly creatures. Harrison Ford delivers a decent performance — although nowhere near to his work as Branch Rickey in “42.” He is a man determined to save mankind no matter how large the sacrifice or how devastating the outcome for those who must fight the war. Butterfield also does fine work as Ender, the quiet, sensitive yet extremely competitive and, at times, deadly young man.
Other stars, however, such as Breslin, Davis and especially Kingsley, are terribly underused and I feel that their roles could have — should have — been extended, even for a few more scenes.
This negative does not dampen my recommendation of Ender’s Game, even for those (like this author) who have never read the book series. Whether this can become a legitimate film franchise, though, and go beyond this inaugural production remains to be seen. I like what I’ve seen, but true fans of the novel may have a vastly different opinion.