ReelReviews #11: Ender’s Game (2013)






Hollywood, sometimes you surprise me. The very fact this film exists is proof enough of that. In an era where movie studios hate to take risks and give us endless sequels and remakes packaged as big budget brainless action movies, here comes an original film that is based an intelligent classic sci-fi novel from the 1980s, and one written by a very polarizing author.

Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”, while I’ve never read the book version (but definitely hope to read soon), turned out to be a damn good movie. It’s also a good movie in spite of the fact its very hard to tell the story in a two hour live action format, especially because much of the book has to deal with the internal conflicts and emotions in his own head that Ender narrates to the audience. If Hollywood could make a decent version of Ender’s Game, there’s hope that someday we’ll see The Catcher in the Rye on the big screen and it will do justice to the source material.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Ender’s Game takes place in a future society where earth has been devastated by two major wars waged by an aggressive insectoid race. Earth is on its last legs, so they are desperately training children to be the “new generation of soldiers”, preparing them to be military leaders and eventually to wage a preemptive strike on the insect’s home world.

It sounds cheesy (and perhaps the worst part of the movie was the really fake looking CGI queen insect at the end of the movie) , but Ender’s Game plays it all very tensely and thrilling. There’s little traditional humor to be found in this movie, the situation is bleak and the scenes with the recruits being trained are often brutal and engaging. One of the best parts of the movie is the teen and pre-teen recruits learning how to think tactically in a zero gravity laser tag game, and Ender being tested psychologically with a no-win strategy game that he plays in his bunker during off-hours. Ender’s Game is compelling from start to finish, and you won’t believe two hours have gone by when it ends.

There’s been some controversy because Ender is only 8 years old in the book, but a 16 year old plays the title role in the movie. It worked fine for me because the actor in the role looks about 12ish anyway, and convincingly shows the audience how he has what it takes to make a great military commander, even if he physically appears scrawny and weak. Much of the supposed “controversy” has nothing to do with the film itself, but with “gay rights” activists opting to boycott the movie because they don’t like the authors beliefs on gay marriage. I choose to boycott Gravity for a similar reason (I can’t stand George Clooney as a powerful smug Obama-loving celebrity), so while I can’t condemn their personal reasons for refusing to see the movie, I will say that the only thing it accomplishes is encourages Hollywood to take less risks and give us more empty popcorn thrillers. Ender’s Game is a smart film with depth, and it deserved much more attention and acclaim that it received.
If you watch Ender’s Game at face value, without any preconceived notions, I think you find this is one terrific little film that has a much bigger idea than its initial premise, and has a really great twist ending that took anyone by surprise that hadn’t read the book (including me). Since it wasn’t given its due in 2013, my hope is that Ender’s Game will eventually become a beloved cult film in future years, with the same kind of quirky buzz that films like A Christmas Story and Donnie Darko get today. It really deserves nothing less. If you’re looking for something that breaks out of the usual Hollywood cookie-cutter mold, consider Ender’s Game.

*** out of ****


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