ENDER'S GAME
Author: JoAnne Hyde
October 31, 2013

SYNOPSIS: In the near future, a hostile alien race (called the Formics) have attacked Earth. If not for the legendary heroics of International Fleet Commander Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), all would have been lost. In preparation for the next attack, the highly esteemed Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and the International Military are training only the best young children to find the future Mazer. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a shy, but strategically brilliant boy is pulled out of his school to join the elite. Arriving at Battle School, Ender quickly and easily masters increasingly difficult war games, distinguishing himself and winning respect amongst his peers. Ender is soon ordained by Graff as the military's next great hope, resulting in his promotion to Command School. Once there, he's trained by Mazer Rackham, himself, to lead his fellow soldiers into an epic battle that will determine the future of Earth and save the human race. Based on the best-selling, award winning novel, ENDER'S GAME is an epic adventure which stars Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, with Abigail Breslin and Harrison Ford.

Ender’s Game begins with a solitary quotation on screen: “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.” The speaker is Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), the main character of Gavin Hood’s fine science fiction film. Ender’s words offer a glimpse into his complex nature and are crucial to understanding the story’s outcome. The film is based on Orson Scott Card’s popular novel, one that is not without controversy. After all, it portrays children as warriors.

The best science fiction creates an imaginary reality that seems completely credible. Ender’s Game is not the simplistic ‘good triumphs over evil’ type of narrative. Like its protagonist, it’s complex and morally thought-provoking. The film begins 50 years after mankind was almost destroyed by an invading alien race, the Formics. The Formics are an insect-like species, technologically superior to the humans of the time, but somehow, humans survived and tracked the invaders back to their home planet. The surviving human leaders now train the best and brightest adolescents in military-style schools to prepare for the next invasion. Their justification is that youths make better warriors because their minds are more open and not yet corrupted by bias.

Ender Wiggin believes that, like his brother Peter (Jimmy Pinchak) and sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin), he has failed to qualify for Battle School. His brother was viewed as too violent, and his sister as too compassionate. Unknown to Ender, Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) has observed him use tactical strategy to defeat a much bigger bully. Graff recruits Ender for the bootcamp-style school situated in a low, earth-orbit space station. The slightly-built Asa Butterfield is perfect in the role of the underestimated and unexpected hero. He rises quickly in the ranks with the help of Petra (Hailee Steinfeld), Bean (Aramis Knight), and Alai (Suraj Partha). He makes an enemy of his jealous squadron leader Bonzo (Moises Arias), but defeats him when Bonzo ambushes him in the showers. Ender then receives his own squadron and continues to advance to the ultimate training ground on a moon of the Formic’s home planet that has been captured by the human forces.

The young warriors’ training consists of hand-to-hand combat practice in a zero-gravity arena, and also with game-like simulations designed to re-create actual battles with the Formics. The amazing zero-gravity format was shot in a NASA complex in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the young actors went to Space Camp to prepare for their roles. They were also trained in wire-work by Cirque de Soleil performers for the carefully choreographed weightless scenes.

Ender has also been personally trained by the legendary hero of the first battle with the Formics, Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), to command the entire human strike force. He and his squadron have progressed to the “graduation” game after which they believe that they will enter into actual conflict with the Formics. Each member of Ender’s squadron controls a contingent of troop transports, and Petra operates their ultimate weapon, the Molecular Disruption Device. Will they “graduate,” and if so, what will they discover about themselves and their enemy? I will leave that to you to discover.

I don’t usually recommend that movie-goers spring for the extra bucks to see a film in the IMAX format, but this one is definitely worth it.

For the fans of the source material, I admit that I have not read the novel. However, my movie buddy had, and he was satisfied with the film adaptation.

Personally, my only criticisms are that time sequences were a bit hard to follow, and due to the complexity of the narrative and of the Ender character, other characters were not fully fleshed-out.

How you respond to the film may depend on whether or not you’ve read the novel and how much of a purist you are about the story. My buddy told me that the novel contains much more back-story and information about the characters than the film. However, even without that information, I left the film feeling that I hadn’t missed anything, and also satisfied that I’d viewed some serious, no fluff, sci-fi. - J.A. Hyde

GRADE: A-


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