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Enders Game - Film Review: Good, Now End It.

Lars HindsleyBy Lars Hindsley Tue 5 Nov 2013 2:06 AM EST | 4218 Views
Three Dangers

(DL) – Well paced, interesting lead up, and twisted end, Enders Game works as a legitimate sci-fi space epic, but doesn't leave you wanting more.

As an uninitiated and not having read the 1985 Nebular award winning novel Enders Game, all that I knew going into the film Enders Game was that a young man Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) was groomed through apparent video game dexterity to battle an entire enemy species (the Formics) and save humanity. This alone told me Enders Game was best viewed with family.
Ender Battlefield
Trying not to piece too much together through trailers the impression you get is another Hollywood attempt at a blockbuster space epic. Learning it was based on a popular sci-fi novel explains why it was brought to the big screen. Author Scott Card wrote Enders Game with an overwhelming sense of empathetic humanity from the point of view of a violent little six year old kid Ender Wiggin. Tell me that doesn't strike you as an ironic juxtaposition. To capture any of this on film relied on altercations and outcomes that hinted at the end game once you reached it. If a film is tricky enough you don't have your a-ha moment until the climax. Savvy filmgoers often piece the clues together two thirds of the way through a film. While the opening of this film offers you the answer of the end before a word image or dialogue begins.

Of course a six year old with the acting chops and a public that would accept a child in this role was not an option. Our ender is a pre-pubescent teen. The illustration below is depicted in the film and almost as gruesomely so parents with very little children should be advised you'll need to cover their eyes at this time but the rest of the film is tame in terms of explicit violence. 

Ender Fights Bullys

As best could be seen, Earth's government was meant to be portrayed as desperate to a point of utter mercilessness in how it used children to fight a war against an alien horde. What came through on screen was a fast tracked training of an almost outcast teen that a couple high level military elites considered our last best hope. Harrison Ford portrayed character Colonel Graff with the softness of a sly wolf in sheeps clothing. You never get the feeling of mercilessness with him at the helm. He comes across more like a father figure, not a desperate no-nonsense military heavy. His situation is desperate. Earth's time is running out. He needs to find a messiah like hero. Not only was the world's military in search of a great tactician and mental warrior, it needed a leader. Developing this leader in less than two hours on film is a task. Condensing important iconic moments in the book to project all the human elements Ender Wiggin possesses does not translate to the big screen at all. It's rushed and a veteran moviegoer can tell.

Featuring Harrison Ford as the International Fleet Commander Colonel Graff. He also wears the hat of selecting savant youth fighters through a training school for children. It becomes obvious quickly, this is a family film with some action, some drama and some suspense all tied by an over-the-top social commentary you take away in the end.

As with most every film being put out in recent years, the opening sequence is a short battle being narrated by the protagonist summing up his place in the story. Within seconds we learn that Earth was once attacked, a hero saved it and that the human race now 50 years past that last battle was preparing for another attack by training children to lead battles through high tech simulation battle ware. Why? Because young minds are better suited to learn and retain so much complexity.   Or as I would put it, my kids play video games so well because they were raised on them.

The appeal of Enders Game on film is that the story is smoothly paced in spite of not being told well. Some aspects of the story seem ridiculous, in fact most of the story leading up to the final battle is ridiculous in necessity. But the plausibility of the stories leading up to that final battle are handled competently enough that you don't mind the unrelated nature of what you experience before the climax. For example, Ender Wiggin reaches space to train in a zero-gravity arena.  The director, Gavin Hood was careful to mimic the true physics by filming the actors on wire harnesses, but ultimately only used their faces in the final cut, optioning to use CGI bodies so that the behavior of those actors bodies followed the laws of physics in space. 

What's botheresome is at the end of Enders Game was you learn that almost none of the interior stories in the film serve in explaining why Ender was this obvious choice to Colonel Graff. Nor was the 50 year trek of Earth's government needed in regards to finding a leader. Sure Ender proves to you he is smart, and that he has a moral code that walks the line of good and evil, but what does a bunch of individual kids floating in space playing objective based toy gun games (not unlike paintball or airsoft or lazer tag) have to do with their physical ability to fight aliens IF they are never going to come face-to-face with an alien? In short, if you are never going to fight an alien in close combat, why train to fight anyone in close combat? Further more the combat Ender is choosen for is large scale combat. There is just no relation to those stories to what Ender is being chosen for.

In the final battle, there is no tense decision making necessary by anyone under the command of Ender. Ender made decisions, and those under his command followed orders because that is what you do when a commander gives a order. That's how it works in the military. Yet, for whatever reason we just watched two hours of Ender Wiggin participate in space games that have little purpose in honing his skills at the helm of his battleship. One can argue he learned tactics, but basic deception and flanking is Art of War 101. Ender would have learned these skills in order to advance in battle school, he wouldn't learn them just before he was being selected as the admiral of an International galactic space team hand picked to save the human race.

Despite the highly flawed story you experience on the big screen which omits the real tension and growth of Ender Wiggin as he was originally written, the reason the film holds up well on the big screen is the author also wrote the screenplay. Orson Card wrote it six times before finally being optioned for film.

Enders Game is a solid family safe film. Oddly it was not intended for children as it was written yet children eagerly enjoyed the action and battle sequences. Unfortunately the ending on two levels needed to be explained to some pre-teen audience members. 

The moral of the story divides the audience giving both a foundation to argue their own code. Those who believe in the necessity of war will have no problem with the moral message while knowing their belief system is being called into question. Those that are anti-war at all costs will rejoice as the story plucks at your heart strings.

The story has a fulfilling ending, and despite it being open ended with author Scott Card intending a sequel, Enders Game has its best end if left as is.

Trivia: To date, in the training battle room, over 300,000 ships were on screen in a single shot, approximately 27 billion polygons were processed by the digital production studio Digital Domain.

Cast: Colonel Hyrum Graff / Harrison Ford, Ender Wiggin / Asa Butterfield, Mazer Rackham / Ben Kingsley, Petra Arkanian / Hailee Steinfeld, Valentine Wiggin / Abigail Breslin, Major Gwen Anderson / Viola Davis
Rating: PG-13
Director: Gavin Hood
Writer: Orson Scott Card
Runtime: 1 hr 54 min

Enders Universe
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