Ender’s Game is the intergalactic sci-fi story with a heart, adapted from Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel with well-known South African director Gavin Hood at the helm.
Remember those video games you used to play as a kid that your parents couldn’t quite master as easily as you did? Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) is looking to harness this dexterity to train truly gifted children to fight a war against the alien race known as the Formics. Long before you apply any Latin knowledge to the origin of their name (or in my case, French), you can already see their resemblance to their namesake – ants. Earth is in peril and a new leader is needed to follow in the footsteps of their national war hero Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley).
Enter Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield), a “third” in the Earth’s two-child policy system, who the Colonel gruffly announces to Major Anderson is The One before promoting him to Battle School. He is scrawny and physically inconsequential but with an intensity in his blue eyes that belies something deeper and almost darker. His siblings Valentine (Abigail Breslin) and Peter (Jimmy Pinchak) didn’t quite make it for reasons which are later revealed that Ender must learn to balance.
Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) is sort of the Dr Jekyll to Colonel Graff’s Mr Hyde, if you will. He feels the need to prepare to pre-empt another Formic invasion at any cost, whereas she worries about the psychological toll this can have on the warrior. Through a series of literal video mind games, she monitors the psyche of the “launchies” whilst Colonel Graff puts them through their paces in various military simulation exercises including a nifty zero gravity version of Quidditch, it seems.
South African talent is the order of the day in Hollywood with Elysium and District 9 most recently faring well. Hood brings his unique touch to this by focusing on the complexities of Ender’s character and the moral battle within whilst simultaneously making us care for the alien invaders.
This is not new territory for Tsotsi‘s director who chooses to delve into projects where humans seem neither definitely good or bad but a mixture of both. With Tron Legacy‘s production and costume design alum Sean Haworth, Ben Procter and Christine Bieselin Clark providing the futuristic backdrop and amazing suits and Steven Jablonsky’s score, Ender’s Game builds to its zenith in style.
This is not the usual tween fodder we are subjected to but a more intricate and spookily accurate analysis, more so for our day and age than when the book was written, on the consequences of war. A notable young ensemble cast (like fellow trainees and team-mates including Moises Arias deftly shedding his Hannah Montana character) and impressive CGI without the unnecessary 3D gimmicks and an interesting interplanetary adventure.
There are missteps along the way that reflect why many, including the author himself, have stated this story is unfilmable – and this is where Ender’s Game falls short. It is ambitious, it deals with the predominant themes in the book well, it’s an intellectual sci fi adventure but it tries to cram in too much in just two hours.
Ender’s Game is The Hunger Games meets Star Trek and Minority Report which doesn’t quite hit the big pay-off as well as it promises, but is still great to watch, with some superb acting from Butterfield and co.
What did you think? Another great for the science fiction hall of fame or a blip on the radar? Your turn on the soapbox in 3, 2, 1.