IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 118 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
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, all would have been lost. In preparation for the next attack, Colonel Graff and the International Military are training the best young children in tough military academies. Ender Wiggin is a shy lonely boy who deals with a bully by not only defeating the other boy but beating him viciously so he never bullies him again, winning not just the current battle but pre-empting any future attacks. Graff sees that his method might make him a suitable candidate for training, and pulls the boy from school to enrol him in a boot camp where he quickly makes progress, but makes some enemies along the way….
Ender’s Game is an odd one really, a simplistic, rushed and rather dull movie, sort of Harry Potter meets Starship Troopers, that gets rather good and even quite deep towards the end….only for it to then suddenly end. Orson Scott’s Card’s novel has been planned as a film for a very long time, with the writer himself having written two scripts, but he claims that director Gavin Hood’s screenplay was all his own. Yes, the same Gavin Hood that helped make such a mess of X-Men: Origins, but directorially at least Ender’s Game is a much better film. For a start you can actually see what’s going on in the action scenes. He’s made a very tight film with no lags in the pacing, but it’s also a film that seems to rush through parts of its story too quickly. I haven’t read the novel, but it’s obvious that, despite expanding the time scale from a year to several years, a great deal has been condensed or is just mentioned in passing. There is much involving Ender, his family and background that seems missing or is aluded to so briefly that one can miss it. For example, Ender seems to be afraid of becoming his older brother Peter, who gets hardly any screen time, but we don’t know why. Of course things like raising the age of the children may have been done to get the all-important ‘PG-13’ rating.
The first half of Ender’s Game seems especially rushed, with Ender’s progression through battle school coming across as absurdly easy. Character types and situations we’ve all seen before are rehashed yet again, such as the tough sergeant, the bully, the only friend and the mastermind manipulating everything. Most of the running time is devoted to Ender and the other recruits in the ‘Battle Room’, where they have to carry out increasingly difficult exercises in zero gravity. One of the major stumbling blocks in filming this project up to now has been the lack of the right technology to make the zero gravity sequences work. They’ve certainly got it now, the scenes coming across as being very convincing. Sadly, they’re also very repetitive and my mind drifted away to things like: why the hell do they need all these children with all the amazing weapons they have? So much makes little sense and whole film feels like a condensed version of a three hour film. It all rushes towards a pretty boring computer game-style battle, but then gives us a downbeat twist which I certainly didn’t work out before hand though many others seem to have done. The final scenes have a surprising power and really ram home the anti-war theme.
In fact, the story resounds with lofty themes, like the embracing of values which we consider abhorrent to protect our real values, or the effects of unreasonably high expectations of someone. In fact, there is a great unevenness between the intelligence of the themes and the superficiality of everything else. It’s as if in order to get the teenage audience which most producers seem to think is the most important audience out there, they had to dumb things down. Technically the Battle Room is a marvel of interesting design and some of the design of the spacecraft and weapons is noteworthy. The cast mostly come up trumps, though Ben Kingsley does another funny turn replete with Maori facial tattoos [why couldn’t they have just got a Maori? Oh wait a minute….it’s because Kingsley, who can play any nationality, was available….silly me]. Harrison Ford looks like he’s enjoying himself, and Asa Butterfield certainly makes you believe his character’s intelligence and eventual horror.
There has been much talk of Card’s anti-homosexual statements, with many deciding to boycott the film. Frankly, I don’t think it matters. If we all refused to see films because we didn’t agree with the views of someone involved in it, we wouldn’t see many films. I’m more concerned about the state of film music today. For Ender’s Game, James Horner was booted off and replaced by Steven Jablonsky, a purveyor in the deadening Remote Control music factory sound. You know what I mean: the same bloody rhythmic patterns, the same bloody drum loops, etc. We are now at a stage where decent composers have to either copy this style [as Patrick Doyle is doing] or bugger off because the idiots in suits thinks this is what film music should be, just sonic wallpaper, devoid of melody, emotion or originality. Actually the Ender’s Game score has a few good moments amidst the general dross, but it really is a very bad time for film music in Hollywood at the moment and Hans Zimmer had a lot to answer for. In the mean time, Ender’s Game is serviceable, but overall feels like a horribly chopped up version of a much bigger and better film.