Ender's Game (2013)

Director:  Gavin Hood
Cast:  Harrison FordAsa ButterfieldHailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis
Plot:  The International Military seek out a leader who can save the human race from an alien attack.  Ender Wiggin, a brilliant young mind, is recruited and trained to lead his fellow soldiers into a battle that will determine the future of Earth.

Genre:  Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

Awards:  -
Runtime:  114min
Rating:  PG for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material.

It is rare to see a visual effects company credited as a co-producer, its name appearing prominently at the start of the credits.  It is both a good and bad sign – visual effects artistes get recognized collectively as a brand rather than as a faceless mass of hardworking geeks, but it also means that the movie is likely to put effects work first, and story and characters second (or maybe even last). 

Ender's Game, based on the critically acclaimed best-selling novel by Orson Scott Card, is not surprisingly a mixed bag, though it was a more positive experience than not for me.  It tries too hard to compel with first-rate visuals at the expense of a well-paced story.  Its science-fiction trappings are well thought out, but it lacks a dramatic force that could have taken the film to another level.

It is like Neil Blomkamp's Elysium (2013) – pretty convincing visually, but half-empty narratively.  Directed and adapted by Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, 2005; X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 2009), Ender's Game has a wonderful cast with Harrison Ford standing out playing a Colonel, with his young protégé soldier Ender played by Asa Butterfield (Hugo, 2011) shouldering much of the film. 

Their performances are not exactly spectacular, but they are serviceable to the demands of the plot.  Ender goes through a tough training programme to prepare him to fight for a war with a threatening alien force.  He has been identified as 'the one', a precocious talent with a strategic mind that could outwit any opponent, and possibly save Earth's inhabitants from extinction.

Digital Domain is the key visual effects provider here, and it shows.  After all, they have done some remarkable award-winning work over the last couple of decades including effects on Titanic (1997) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).  The elaborate work here unfortunately loses its novelty quickly, though it is due in part to the countless training sequences in the film. 

Well you see… Ender’s Game very much reminds of the first half of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987), as Ender goes through a physically and psychologically taxing training regime, often under zero gravity.  The simulation battles work very much like a video game with complex graphics, but as the plot moves on, the very notion of ‘game’ and ‘gamesmanship’ is spun on its head.

Ender’s Game doesn’t really disappoint, but it is not promising either.  It has franchise material written all over it, but can it sustain for the long haul?  Still, it looks set to be a decent hit at the box-office.

Verdict:  A franchise-in-the-making screen adaptation with first-rate sci-fi visuals, and second-rate storytelling and characterizations.


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