Tuesday, 11 March 2014


The battle to end all battles? ENDER'S GAME awaits. Images: ENTERTAINMENT ONE.


Starring Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield and Ben Kingsley

Based on the book series by Orson Scott Card

Adapted for the screen and directed by Gavin Hood

Out now on Blu-ray and DVD from ENTERTAINMENT ONE

Reviewed by Scott Weller

The future must be won…

The fate of all mankind rests in a new kind of a soldier for a new kind of war, as the psychological and technological firepower of Earth battles against a deadly alien foe, under the courageous but relatively inexperienced tactical command of youngster Ender Wiggin, seemingly born for this unique destiny, in the one-off film adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s eighties classic, the fondly regarded sci-fi war novel series: ENDER’S GAME. Years in the making, the lavish-budgeted film, a genuine interstellar epic, finally arrives on DVD and pristine Blu-ray this week after a critically well-received theatrical release…

And Ender, though the story’s primary hero, is not alone in his endeavours- alongside him being a specially picked cadre of mentally and physically adept youngsters as their homeworld’s ultimate defenders, whose thought processes and ideals would not be expected or anticipated by their opponents...

Earth's greatest protector: Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield).

A glossy and attractive film package channelling the kind of viewing audiences that have previously enjoyed the sci-fi/fantasy arenas explored by the likes of THE HUNGER GAMES, HARRY POTTER, PERCY JACKSON, the film has a shining and confident performance by rising star Asa Butterfield giving Ender an intense but vulnerable quality, showing us the burdens that lay in the 14 year-old’s psyche, his uneasy family life, corresponding with his young sister (Abigail Breslin), and the deep breaths he has to take when soon becoming the last best hope in the fight against the deformed Formics aliens- a race of insect creatures whom humanity believes is swarming anew to destroy them, and whom they only just beat back first time out…
Ender gets support on his new destiny from Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford)

Part of a worthy cast rather than stealing anybody’s thunder, Harrison Ford, playing Colonel Hyrum Graff, further solidifies himself as a supporting character actor of note in one of his better post Indiana Jones/CRYSTAL SKULL roles, and has some intriguing scenes with Butterfield’s “Chosen One”, whom he makes the leader of the newly
resurrected Dragon Squad of young warriors. Gruff and determined not to let the human face fall, Graff totally believes in Ender’s abilities, and will seemingly do all that he can, short of murder, to see the boy reach his prime as the ultimate defender of humanity...

Academy Award nominee Viola Davis adds subtle weight as the child psychiatrist sparring with Ford for the boys emotional well being in the trials and tribulations ahead, though Hailee Steinfeld, who so impressed with her fiery performance in TRUE GRIT, is strangely underused as Ender’s loyal friend, Petra. No longer the pacifist he portrayed in Gandhi, actor Ben Kingsley’s heavily facial tattooed character of Mazer Rackham adds some mystery before delivering important plot material needed to launch the film in to what will be it's eventual CGI layered climax.
Into the Battlesphere training area.

But its the first half of the film, with Ender’s selected to enter the military, finding his way up the ranks, gaining friendship and life experiences, that proves the best and most satisfying elements to watch, well acted and staged by director Gavin Hood, last seen helping Hugh Jackman flex his adamantium claws for his first solo WOLVERINE movie (and clearly a huge fan of Ford’s previous dramatic sci-fi output, too - check out the quite obvious BLADE RUNNER tribute scene at the film’s mid-point!).

Frustratingly spurned by its creator before its release, who was unhappy with some adaptive changes made by the production team and studio, ENDER’S GAME has the blockbuster trappings people want, but it isn’t forgettable, popcorn drowning fluff. Instead, keeping to the spirit of the author’s work, its serious sci-fi theme is layered within a coming of age anti-war story of sorts. However, it’s a sometimes uneasy fusion between the two elements that becomes a poison chalice in some areas of the films pacing structure, especially felt as it moves into its “War is Hell” second half- the stakes raised ever higher for our young hero. Don’t expect any STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE style uplifting finale with medals and applause here, either. These days, that kind of spirited warmth is out of fashion...
The first half of the film takes place above Earth on the Battle School space station

With the exception of the Battlesphere module used to train the new recruits into soldiers - an important part of the book series satisfyingly realized, some aspects of the concept visuals don’t feel quite so innovative and fresh as they surely were when conceived for the printed page back in the eighties. On screen, its visual translation/design has earlier shades of 2001 mixed with the military feel of STARSHIP TROOPERS, plus a hint of the Geonosis insect action finale of STAR WARS EPISODE II.

Fortunately, with his classy cast, Gavin Hood, challenged by adapting the book into a digestible screenplay (paring down some parts of the storytelling in order to convert it to moving pictures), makes the film an intelligent and worthwhile enterprise, clearly showing his enthusiasm for the project from the get-go whilst also trying to ground it with some serious moral depth and debate on the ethics of war.
Ender meets Earth's first alien battle hero: Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley)

Ultimately, the finale is generally satisfying but rather low-key, as Ender’s first fiery participation in the Formics war leads to future consequences and a continued destiny of an altogether different kind, giving the film its true coda and ultimately humanitarian message- something that’s not a bad thing to have amidst a sea of aimless blockbusters these days.

The likely stunning Blu-ray has the important behind the scenes extras, whilst the DVD Special Features prove disappointing: namely several audio commentaries and a few very brief deleted scenes (showing Ford’s character as a much more subtly manipulative figure in the grand scheme of things), with optional audio commentary from Hood. ENTERTAINMENT ONE could have tried a lot harder in this area for non Blu purchasers and fans…

AFICIONADO RATING: Uneven storytelling in places, but there's enough good material located within it to make it a solid entry into the pantheon of sci-fi/fantasy. 3.5 out of 5


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