Monday, 4 November 2013

Ender's Game

Hello again readers and welcome to my first post for November. Here I am going to be reviewing and commentating on a hot new film, Ender's Game which is of course based on the work of the same name by author Orson Scott Card.

In this review I'll be speaking on both the film and the controversy surrounding it, of which yes, there is quite a bit.

As an important (I think) aside, I have read neither the book Ender`s Game or any of Card`s other work save for one of his 'how to' books on writing and the book Empire. This isn't something I usually do but I felt that I wanted to see an awesome sci-fi movie and had too many other things on the go to stop and read the novel first.

Without further ado, let's sit back and take a look at Ender's Game!

The film starts out with a brief intro showing the first Formic invasion stating how the invasion had just barely been beaten off and that humanity was unprepared, which cost millions of innocent lives. Now humanity prepares for the next inevitable invasion. In order to win they need to get a commander who can lead them to victory. To that end humanity has established the Battle School where children are brought to train in the art of combat and leadership.

We start off with our title character Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) as he fights another classmate in a scuffle over Ender's crushing defeat of said classmate in a simulation. The fight leaves the classmate bruised battered, and ultimately broken as Ender crushes him so that the bully will never pick on him again.

Little does Ender realize that this is all an elaborate test set up by the commander of Battle School, Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) who is a mentor figure and kingmaker looking for the next great commander to fight that battle against the Formics. For Ender's brutal beat down of the bully, and his justification that he wanted to ensure the bully never picked on him again he is promoted and sent to Battle School.

However, he is separated from his caring and empathetic sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin), and his sociopathic and overtly violent brother Peter. Ender has deep personal issues about which sibling he takes after most, he is terrified of his brother Peter, and loves his sister Valentine more than anyone else in the world. Who he most emulates is a character point the film latches onto really well and garners quite a bit of sympathy for Ender as he struggles with who he really is.

Meanwhile Ender excels in Battle School outperforming his fellow cadets in almost every way, along the way he makes friends with characters such as Bean, Petra (True Grit's, Hailee Steinfeld), Ali, and student antagonist, Bernard. Eventually he preforms so well that he is given command of his own army (Dragon Army) so he can prove his worth in the fighting to come.

I don't want to spoil the plot for those who haven't seen it, or to bore those who already know all the details from the novel. Needless to say the film is excellent in its pacing and how it touches on all the moral issues and the different ethical and personal relationships the characters in the film have.

From addressing the morality of child soldiers (brought up in a wonderful performance by Viola Davis) to the proposed genocide of the Formics in order to ensure they can never harm humanity again, and to the attitude to do what it takes to absolutely win the film touches upon many important issues. I particularly felt the impact of the child soldiers discussion where Colonel Graff begins to care more about the necessity of winning over the morality of what happens to your enemy or the men you train to win. I was also impressed by the view that doing whatever it takes to win isn't necessarily the right thing, even though it may be the practical thing.

Now the film itself was well acted. Harrison Ford was an amazing Colonel Graff and every moment he was on screen was pure gold, and Asa Butterman proved himself as a truly capable actor taking on the role of Ender, I was blown away. I for one was at first worried the producers would subvert Ender's character for Ford's when I first saw the trailer, but thankfully those fears were unfounded and the dialogue and sub-plot between the two was woven into the film quite well giving us the dual perspectives of the trainer and the trainee in an interesting comparison of goals and motives. Ben Kingsley's later role in the film is just fabulous, and despite his late appearance the film is much better off for him being in it. Truly you would have been hard pressed to put a better cast together.

That's not to say none of the actions weren't over the top or just a bit goofy. Some of the actions the director had Butterman undertake were fairly cheesy. His over the top arm gestures at some points were visually distracting and seemed pointless, taking away from the focus of some otherwise dramatic moments. The character of Bonzo also seemed to have a perpetual scowl all the way through the film, but that didn't detract from his characterization, just from the range of emotions he could show.

The supporting cast played their roles wonderfully as well, none of them can be said to have screwed up. Whether it was Breslin as the compassionate sister guiding her little brother, or Steinfeld as the friend and companion to Ender the dialogue and interaction between the characters came off nicely and didn't feel stiff or forced in any way. The reactions and emotions seemed raw and real to me, I was quite pleased when watching them.

One beautiful thing about the film was the amazing diversity the cast offered. Gone is the all white cast of buff space marines, here we have children (boy and girl) from all over the world, of radically different backgrounds. Muslims, black, white, Asian, and Latino, we have a diverse and truly global cast represented on screen. It felt like a united effort by the Earth, Hell the International Fleet's commanding officer (and Graff's superior) is a Middle Eastern man! We even have the wonderful Nonso Anozie as Sergeant Dap, a humorous supporting character for Ender.

Visually I would say the film is nothing special. It establishes all the shots it needs and incorporates the free fall mechanics into scenes (especially the Battle Room setting) well and used just enough CGI to keep the flow smooth and believable. The film won't be winning any awards for breaking new ground in CGI or camera shots but it uses the shots and imagery effectively for what there is.

The film gave us only a small number of locations to see and it worked with the film just taking these areas and running with them, from Ender's home, the Battle Station and the International Fleet outpost, we get just a small series of sets that are all incorporated into the characters daily routines, making them feel that much more real.

The musical score was well done as well. I hate to say nicely simplistic, but they established wonderful tension and atmosphere with a small set of musical cues that ran fabulously from start to finish. I was caught up in the emotion of it all and staggered or stressed by the music in the correct spots and it was used to good effect to set the tone of each scene.

Finally however, I come to the controversy which surrounds this film. Much of the controversy comes from Card's outspoken anti-homosexual and gay marriage attitude, and the fears he might use this film to soapbox those views. Thankfully though those fears proved unfounded. However, many felt they should boycott the film in order to keep Card from obtaining royalties or funds he might get from the ticket sales. This was done to prevent him from reaping the rewards to continue with his 'homophobic agenda'.

Now while Card has said some legitimately nasty things about the homosexual community, and while I personally disagree with those views I will say this; just because the author holds these views does not make it right for people to boycott this work, which contains nothing that reinforces those views. Authors personal opinions and their works can be (and in many cases are) separate from each other. Those who decided to boycott the film just because Card (who had very little control over what went into the film) held these views not only cheapen the hard work of the actors and crew who made this film, but also prove their own ignorance since Card will not be receiving one red cent of the ticket proceeds.

The fact is that yes, Card has said some bad things, but those are also his personal opinion, which as far as my knowledge goes, does not extend into his works, and it certainly comes up not at all in this film. I quote the film's producer Robert Orci "the movie should be judged on its message, and not the personal beliefs of the original author," and I hold the same view.

So I would end this review with a plea to those who might be considering boycotting the film or who currently are to give it a chance. The film isn't about homophobia, hating gays, or demonizing gay marriage. It is a film which is well acted, well put together, and raises some thought provoking moral questions about war, it's consequences, and just what measure a non-human's life holds.

If you'll put away whatever disdain you have for the author of the book, you can go see a fantastic film which doesn't disappoint and stars Harrison Ford once again rocking around in outer space.

Until next time readers!


  1. I wonder how many people who called for a boycott of Ender's Game said that Catholics were morons for boycotting The Golden Compass.

  2. More than likely a few. Mind you I thought that movie deserved to be boycotted because it was a horrible adaptation like the Eragon film.