'Ender's Game' can't eclipse its fantasy predecessors
05:00 AM, Nov 01, 2013
As source material, Ender’s Game predates most of Hollywood’s juggernaut fantasy franchises of late, including The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, by years.
So why does it feel so derivative?
Part Potter, part Hunger and an odd dose of Shawshank Redemption this sci-fi opus (*½ out of four, rated PG-13, opens nationwide Friday) had fans salivating for a film adaptation since Orson Scott Card’s book hit shelves in 1985.
But the movie can’t help but feel like a hologram of its fantasy forefathers, a mirage of a drama despite some stunning visuals. Combined with timing that’s not the film’s fault and one-dimensional characters that are, Ender’s becomes a solemn march through material that could have been thought-provoking.
Set in a dystopian future Earth (aren’t they all?) where kids serve as our elite soldiers, Ender’s posits that mankind is girding for another alien invasion by the ant-like Formics, who nearly wiped out the planet last time they dropped by.
Enter Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a scrawny genius who talks his way out of most disputes and ends the rest brutally and finally. The pre-teen’s steely nerve earns the attention of Col. Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and Maj. Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), who recruit the young Napoleon to the International Military. The result is a rushed introduction that removes much that’s humanizing or sympathetic, leaving us with taciturn kids marching to taciturn adult orders.
Granted, director Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) has a lot to plow through here to satiate book devotees and get Ender to Battle School, where children are trained to be cold remote pilots.
And whatever your feelings about Card’s public anti gay-marriage statements, it’s clear why the book resonated and could have been a prescient film paralleling a world of smartphones and drone aircraft.
But where the novels allowed readers to imagine adolescents morphing into killer soldiers, it’s a tougher task on film, where our characters exhibit about as much menace as facial hair. They’re too old to be playing Potter-like magic games and too young to reckon with the sexual tension that underscores Twilight and Hunger Games.
Instead, we get 12-year-olds threatening one another like they’re Shawshank inmates, and a shower assault scene that not only looks unconvincing; it’s kind of weird.
Certainly, no outer space film wanted to be the first to follow Gravity, the picture that remains in theaters and has become such a public sensation that SNL is doing skits about it. While the zero-gravity scenes are accomplished in Ender’s, they still leave the movie looking like an echo to the sci-fi shot heard round Hollywood.
Most Ender’s fans, of course, won’t care about comparisons and consider the film adaptation a long-awaited victory in itself.
Those fresh to the tale or at least expecting something fresh from it may wonder what the fuss was about.