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11174328_det ‘Ender’s Game’ is a classic novel that had a unique twist in focusing on child soldiers in a sci-fi setting that few other stories touched upon.  Now as a film adaptation, ‘Ender’s Game’ has to bear the weight of what many other adaptations face – the balance of telling the plot of the original source material along with creating smart adaptations that fit better to a film format.  Even beyond these points, though, the ultimate question becomes how does the story fare on film alone.  ‘Ender’s Game’ unfortunately feels like potential that is never reached – a film that may entertain on a surface level but does not resonate when audiences step outside the theater.

‘Ender’s Game’ follows Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a young, intelligent boy is being recruited to join the International Military in the fight against an alien race.  This child soldier program is being headed, on the ground, by Col. Graff (Harrison Ford) who sees potential in young Wiggin and brings him up to Battle School.  Ender has a tough journey ahead as he has to assimilate with his competitive classmates and a series of trials that only grow harder in preparation for the battle against the alien invaders.

Some of the best parts about the film lie in the actors and some of the themes/visuals.  The actors, for the most part, are fairly good in their roles.  The two standouts and well-cast parts belong to Butterfield and Ford who both do a great job with creating multi-faceted characters.  Butterfield is at his best when given tactical reign and brings great conflicted emotion when the situations arise.  Ford, on the other hand, is playing one of his better roles in recent years – feeling manipulative yet patriotic.  When the two interact, there’s a great conflict that continuously plays off the two actors and pays off by film’s end.  In addition, some of the visuals are fairly impressive such as the Battle School itself and it’s huge circular Battle Room that hosts some of the more fun action sequences.  In addition, some of the themes resonate well such as the use of child soldiers and the effects of ‘modern’ warfare.  One of the film’s best sequences come after the climax between Ford and Butterfield that presents more than enough shades of grey to really create some good food for thought.

It’s a shame, unfortunately, that this great final scene showcases the few moments of brilliance that feels underwhelming throughout the rest of the film.  One of the biggest issues come within the film’s rushed pacing.  Especially noticeable in it’s first half, the film zooms off – not exactly in an enthralling way but in awkward, rushed cuts that make emotional scenes lack gravitas and understanding.  This pacing issue eventually starts to get better by film’s end although by this point, it feels too little, too late.  This issue is not even about a long running time since the film runs a little less than two hours – it is an issue of strange editing.  Characterizations are also exacerbated by this issue in addition to the film’s script.  Although Ender and Col. Graff feel like well-rounded characters, secondary characters that Ender meet feel woefully underdeveloped and rushed.  Much like in any movie with a big cast, it’s understandable that many side characters will not be as noticed, yet many of the important smaller characters here are given very little to do and ultimately come off as one-note.  Dink, for instance, has a role to play by film’s end, but his relationship with Ender is never really fleshed and his presence in the final scenes of the film feels confusing than celebratory.  The final issue is in the visuals themselves.  Although the Battle Room and a few other scenes have a relatively interesting, modern look, many scenes seem to lack a more serious aesthetic – falling more towards feeling like props and costumes than natural and organic with the world being created.  The film just always has a quality of aloofness associated with it rather than a natural pull.  Overall, all these issues lead to a lack of nuance and a much more emotional weight that many may have experienced with the books.  Instead, the film ends up being a simple sci-fi action film adaptation with only some more serious thoughts peppered throughout.

‘Ender’s Game’ is the classic case of a film adaptation that just does not do enough to condense and focus it’s original narrative into a film that still feels in spirit like it’s original source material while retaining deeper themes and characterizations.  There are some good points to be noted here including some great acting from Butterfield and Ford along with retaining some general gravitas about themes like child soldiers and warfare.  However, the film is so content on trying to be close to it’s dense source material that it feels more like a summary of the book rather than a compelling film with a rushed first half and a host of secondary characters that feel underdeveloped and underwhelming.  Indeed, the question perhaps comes up – being who this film is ultimately for?  Perhaps the ultimate goal is for fans to read the original source material or for a general audience to consume such content in simpler manner.  In any case, the end result feels disjointed and strange – only hinting at the potential of a greater story that would have worked had the film either trusted it’s source material more to create a grand epic or to hone the film more in on it’s main characters and thoughts.  

Director: Gavin Hood
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 114 Minutes

The Wie muses: ** ½ out of *****

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