Sunday 8 December 2013

Film Review: Ender's Game

A book once dubbed "unfilmable" by its author, Ender's Game finally hits cinema screens over 20 years after it first when to print. Starring Asa Butterfield as the titular hero, Ender and Harrison Ford as the growly Commander Hyrum Graff, the film is a glossy and often thought-provoking science-fiction adventure that loses steam somewhere along the way.

Set in a future where Earth has come under attack from an alien race called the Formics, children are selected for military training in order to prepare for future attacks. Ender Wiggin (Butterfield) is a particularity gifted child who is hand-picked to progress through the various training programs and lead an offensive against the Formics and prevent further war.

Ender's Game is a highly-rated novel from the 1970's - reading up on the novel before writing this review made me realise how interesting the authors ideas were for a time before modern science-fiction. I haven't read the novel so I can't really comment on how accurate the film is in that respect; from reading a plot synopsis however, I understand that there are a few central sub-plots the screenwriters opted to drop for the film adaptation.

This is inevitable with any book to film adaptation - even the fantastic recent adaptation of the second Hunger Games novel, Catching Fire, left out some key scenes and exposition to avoid an overly long running-time. In Ender's Game, the plot has been streamlined in order to condense the action and focus more on Ender himself. As a result, I felt that ideas were starting to run a little thin by the mid-point.

Things picked up again near the end, but I did feel that the climax was a tad rushed. I would have liked the films first portion, Ender's training in the Battle Academy, to have been further condensed in order to attribute a bigger portion of the script to the final 'confrontation' with the Formics, and subsequent fallout.

If you put slight pacing issues aside however, Ender's Game is an entirely serviceable sci-fi film for young adults and teens. Asa Butterfield (Hugo, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang) is really good in the lead role and slots into the lead role well. Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) is also present as Ender's friend and fellow trainee Petra.

The big name latched onto Ender's Game is of course Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford. Ford plays a gruff military-type who resides over the Battle Academy. It's a role that Ford could do in his sleep, so it's great to see he isn't just phoning it in. And you can actually hear what he is saying!

The film does raise some great issues about militarisation, childhood, aggression and tactics. There are also some good points raised about the ethical implications of war. Thankfully, it doesn't get too heavy - kids won't feel like they are being lectured.

Visually, the film looks great - the Battle Academy is awesome, as is the simulation battles the kids compete in. The alien worlds and huge dreadnoughts are also cool, looking just as though they were ripped straight-out of the Star Wars prequels or the new Star Trek movies. Unfortunately, slick visuals and battle set-pieces can only get you so far if the script is starting to spin its wheels.

At the end of the day, the mark of a good novel adaptation is that it gets you wanting to explore the story further by reading the original text. Did Ender's Game achieve that? Yes, I felt interested enough by the story in the film to go out of my way to read the book.

The Verdict: 6/10

Ender's Game is a solid, if unspectacular, film that provides enough meat on its bones to warrant a second watch and a quick dip into the source text. It takes a while to get going and the climax is a little underwhelming, but it certainly looks a treat. Buttefield, Steinfeld and Ford are all good, as is the slightly underused Ben Kingsley. A good film to introduce kids to morality and ethics with a real-world message behind it.


  1. Nice review. This was a decent flick, but as you said, it does take a while to get going, so much so that by the time it's ready to finally begin, the credits start rolling, lol. Guess we'll have to wait for part 2 in that case, but at least Harrison Ford was great in this one. :)

    1. Yeah the ending was quite abrupt. Not sure if I'd go back for a sequel but there you go; exploring the book sounds more interesting. Thanks for commenting Chris :)

  2. Funnily enough, I thought they didn't do the battle school story credit, they skimmed over how his tactics were so different to the other kids' and never really gave you that awesome feeling the books did when he overcame the other teams.

    1. Good point Jamie, the battle school scenes did show how Ender was different to the other kids well. Maybe I'll get into the book to see what was and wasn't different. Thanks for commenting :)

  3. Like the review love the film.



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