Ender's Game - DVD Review

'a film that creaks throughout with the weight of decades in production limbo'

Adapted from the 1985 novel of the same name, author Orson Scott Card reportedly didn’t want Ender’s Game to become a film for at least the first ten years following its publication, until he wrote a screenplay himself in the mid nineties. The fact that it’s taken almost twenty years since then (almost thirty since the novel’s publication) for the film to be released should perhaps serve as a warning that this was never going to be a story that would easily transfer to the big screen. Had it been made in the eighties, or even the nineties, maybe Ender’s Game would have offered a more satisfying cinematic experience. As it is, this is a film that creaks throughout with the weight of decades in production limbo.

It’s a genuine shame, as Ender’s Game is a film you’ll want to like from start to end, your frustration building as every opportunity to build something worthwhile from Card’s story and the assembled cast amounts to yet another disappointment. The fact that the plot centres around children being drafted into a futuristic military school means the cast by definition has a large number of young actors. Whilst many of those on the periphery are never memorable (in their defense, most are barely given any chance to be), bigger names such as Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld do well. Most importantly, none of the child actors here annoy, which is a plus point for any film with so many young talents involved.

On the (much) older end of the scale, the talents involved are reliably solid, if never challenged at any point. Harrison Ford as Colonel Hyrum Graff wheels out his crotchety high-ranking military man with ease, managing to entertain whilst never breaking a sweat. Ben Kingsley is also reliably strong in a role which receives far too little screen time in the film’s final act to add anything truly meaningful to proceedings. Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) suffers the opposite fate, excised from the plot just when she starts to become genuinely interesting.

Many of Ender’s Games' problems come from the nagging feeling you’ve seen too much of this before. There are alien battle sequences strongly reminiscent of Independence Day, and a lot of the action that takes place on the military academy in space feels too much like Full Metal Jacket reimagined as a Children’s BBC gameshow, complete with Nonso Anokie’s clich├ęd drill sergeant watered down for a 12A audience. The Formics feel like an amalgamation of aliens from several other more successful sci-fi films and are too rarely seen to feel like anything more than generic enemies until it’s too late.

The other issue here is one of pacing and development. Again and again director Gavin Hood moves the story on to a new scenario, only to shift once again before any characters or ideas can be developed beyond rudimentary levels. The relationship between Ender (Butterfield) and his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin, again impressive but seen far too little to make an impact) feels as though it should be important, but never amounts to anything; the same can be said for the attraction teased between Ender and Petra (Steinfeld). Ender’s interaction with a mentally-controlled video game starts intriguingly, but is forgotten about for too long to resonate when reintroduced much later on. His progress through the military school also feels alarmingly quick and easy, occasionally explained by obliquely referring to him as something like a Matrix-style “The One”, but again this is ultimately left hanging and never properly clarified or resolved.

The talent involved here, particularly the young cast, means you’ll likely be desperate to warm to Ender’s Game a lot more than you ultimately will. Whilst there are elements here to enjoy in isolation, the persistent problems and overall slightness of Hood’s adaptation suggest that perhaps Card should have stuck with his initial instinct to stay away from a film version of his novel.

Ender's Game is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 10th March 2014.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment