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The short review: In what could be mistaken for a two-hour video game trailer, Ender’s Game is saved in a multigenerational effort with strong performances from kid wonders and film veterans alike.

The long review: Ender’s Game, based on Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel of the same name, no doubt has an army of devout fans amassed from the legions of readers who saw themselves in Ender Wiggin when they picked up the chapter book in middle school. But whether they’ll be satisfied with Writer/Director Gavin Hood’s interpretation of the beloved sci-fi military parable is less than certain.

Set in a not-so-distant future, the people of a verdant earth ready themselves for an inevitable second War of the Worlds against the alien insect Formics. Since the devastating first attack years ago, humans have been hand-selecting children to be placed in Battle School, where the leadership is on the lookout for the next great military mind. Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) thinks he’s found just that in preternaturally intuitive Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a lanky pre-teen outsider who rapidly grows into his apparent military prowess. Only Major Anderson (the always heartbreaking Viola Davis) wonders what all this battle hardening might do to the kid in the end.

Asa Butterfield (Hugo, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) gives an impressively stoic performance as the 12-year-old Ender, the boy-genius bred to be a brilliant military commander. Even better, he holds his own up against Harrison Ford, reliably Harrison Fording his way across a raging river of digital military strategy and touch screens.

Surprisingly, the film’s phalanx of child actors delivers not the overwrought, saccharine performances borne of one too many Disney Channel pilots, but affecting and nuanced ones, this, even in spite of kid-to-watch Moises Arias’s long residency at the Disney Channel. As the sadistic team Captain Bonzo, Arias (Kings of Summer, Hannah Montana) exudes teen bully menace from every inch of his 5’ 5” frame. Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) is comfortably likeable as the sort-of love interest and the film’s lone girl.

Ender’s Game vacillates between grand, sweeping space vistas and tight, penetrating close ups, mostly on Butterfield’s steely gaze. If you’re into meticulously rendered computer generated space, well then, a good 60% of Ender’s Game is for you. And if you’re by chance also into moral grey areas concerning the mental manipulation of children in war, then a minute percentage of screen time will work for you as well.

But in the end, the film struggles to condense too much material into a two-hour run time. The book spanned six years, while the film packs all that into just about one year. With that much emotional ground to cover and a plot punctuated by long, computer-generated battle sequences, the story suffers from a lack of a sense of urgency and some seemingly forced character growth. Not even Sir Ben Kingsley as the legendary General Mazer Rackham could lend enough gravity to a story that very nearly gets lost in space.

Ender’s Game is in theaters on November 1st. What do you think of the film? Quemment below and let us know!

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  1. Alec says:

    But does it include all the homoerotic shower content of the original novel?!?

  2. T_ says:

    *Note-Spoilers ahead*

    Well, I have to admit I was excited to see it but did not expect much from it and unfortunately the film delivered even less than that. After years of hearing and reading articles on how hard Orson Scott Card worked on adapting Ender’s Game to film, the movie was flat, poorly scripted and it felt rushed; I did not feel any emotional connection to the characters while watching the screen, and I have read the book many many times.

    One of the most disturbing things was the director seemed to think the audience was dumb and not paying attention during the movie. At the end on the command school planetoid (one of the cooler things in the movie), after the daily simulation battles and exhaustion of the Battle School kids should have set in, you actually see close-ups of the charatcers on the big screen and the kids look well rested and none of them are slow to react (and Petra was fresh as a daisy for all of the battles-how nice for her) so it made the final battle merely a requirement to finish the film, not something you could get excited about.

    And why have a move where there is almost NO character development? Ender’s sister Valentine was a major figure in the book, in the film, she almost seemed superfluous, and was added as an afterthought. Bean had almost no screen time, and we never really got to see Dragon Army grow…it was just went from introducing Dragon Army to Dragon Army wins…tada!! ! Woo hoo for them!

    A direcor’s cut might shore up some of these issues, but Writer/Director Gavin Hood’s interpretation of Ender’s Game is just that…a poor interpretation and thank the gods the book is on my shelf, just waiting to be read again. The film (as it is) will never be added into my Blu Ray collection…the director and cast did not seem to care about how the film was presented to us, so why should we care to own it and see it again.

  3. Luke says:

    The movie had decent casting, and special effects (though I admit, I’d always pictured the Battle Room as a non-descript white room, ironically closer to the X-Men version, considering who directed Ender’s Game).

    Beyond that, though, every scene felt rushed. The movie eschewed character so it could gallop towards the big space battle ending, and butchered the original story in many key ways.

    Book Ender is an outcast among his peers, but Movie Ender never feels that way. They botched the entire Bonzo plotline by not setting it up correctly. I actually felt sorry for him and his pouty lip after Ender and his army laugh after they win. Just awful.

    Also, I really hated the generic Hollywood, jingo military crap, which was simply not present in the novel. Yes, they’re training to be soldiers, but they’re still children. The movie’s depiction of Dap is a particularly grievous example. SIR, YES, SIR! ATTEN-SHUN! AT EASE!!

    Actually, the presence of smiling, encouraging adults everywhere also made the whole film seem wrong. Graff stresses to Anderson that there will be no one to step in and save Ender when he’s fighting the Buggers, so the adults mostly leave the children to solve their own problems.

    Stick with the book. As OSC put it, you can cast whoever you like and the budget is unlimited.

  4. Brian says:

    I read the book recently and loved it. the movie did seem like it was choosing between loosing things and rushing them. there’s lots in the book that wasn’t mentioned, but the movie hit all the right high points. I’d say if you saw the movie and liked it you don’t really need to read the book to pick up what was left out.

    Also they wanted to make this movie back when the book was first popular, but they wouldn’t agree to stay true to the book. for example keeping Ender 12, and not having a love story.

  5. Phil says:

    Oddly, I wasn’t really a fan of the book and only read the first one. 80’s sci-fi novels never really appealed to me I guess because there was so much time spent on describing and wrestling with concepts. So, a truncated time frame wouldn’t bother me because of how I felt about the novel. But I also wouldn’t pay to see this. This is more of a Netflix venture for me.

  6. william says:

    I loved the movie and I thought that they put in all the necessary information. The creators did justice to Orson Scott Card, and that all and more than I expected. One of the best sci fi movies I’ve seen.

  7. natasha says:

    Ender’s game kinda a surprised me in many ways …here is why ?

  8. Fartbooty says:

    Looks like Star Trek for babies love me some Harrison tho

  9. James.W says:

    Love this movie. Moments that surprised me

  10. RG says:

    Yeah, it definitely felt rushed. Nothing lingered as long as it needed to, and the movie wasn’t even over two hours. I’m wondering if somebody just got trigger-happy in the editing room and cut out more than ever needed to be.

    Maybe I’ve just gotten too used to hour-long TV dramas, but I feel like nobody has actual conversations in interesting dramatic movies anymore. It’s just a couple lines back and forth, and that’s it. Not that that’s the worst thing if it’s what the scene demands, but in that case it also needs some silences and longer reaction shots to punctuate things, and this movie had none of that.

    As a delivery system for the story of the book, it works, but in trying to preserve the awe-inspiring plot twists, it sacrifices the charming simple stuff; the kids interacting in their downtime, the depth of the brother character, all that junk.