Ender’s Game: Gavin Hood’s Adventure, Starring Harrison Ford

ender's_game_3I went to see Ender’s Game with low expectations, based on the checkered career of director Gavin Hood, who recently helmed “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (which I didn’t like).

Co-starring Harrison Ford in one of his better and meatier roles in years, “Ender’s Game” is not flawless, but it has enough interesting ingredients to merit attendance by both adult and young viewers.

This rather faithful adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s novel of the same name is effective as a thrilling adventure, coming of age tale, and critical expose of wartime ethics.

Understandably, the book’s more complex issues have been simplified to make the film accessible to children and teenagers intrigued by adventurism and violent warfare videogame.  And indeed, it’s easy to empathize (or even identify) with the hero as he embarks on a journey that transforms him from inexperienced trainee to skillful commander of Earth’s armies.

The narrative is constructed in such a way that it’s possible to relate to and enjoy the film without digging its more subtle allegories and messages underling the central tale.

ender's_game_4Asa Butterfield, best known as the hero of Scorsese’s lovely fable, “Hugo,” plays Ender Wiggin, a military trainee in a futuristic society where adults enlist children as the first line of defense against an alien invasion.  It’s a pleasure to report that Butterfield, who was a bit stiff and inexpressive in “Hugo,” is maturing into an intelligent young actor with good promising future ahead of him.

Early on Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), impressed with Ender’s various skills and robust personality, selects him for Battle School.  Ender doesn’t disappoint his leader, and responding the challenges, he rises through the ranks. The road is not without obstacles (which is what makes the tale more credible and engaging), and there is price to be paid. Ender is alone, separate from his mates, and the more successful he becomes, the more opponents and enemies he creates.

After demonstrating his mettle in the Academy’s zero-gravity war simulator, Ender is promoted to Command School and put through rigorous training to learn how to deal with armies in battles.

In the process, Ender himself begins to have doubts and raise questions about the strategy of total destruction of his enemies, even if it serves some immediate and future purposes.

ender's_game_1On one level, “Ender’s Game” unfolds as a classic coming of age saga, replete of all kinds of physical rites of passage and more symbolic and philosophical rituals that are presented as necessary conditions for Ender to become “The One.”

Context is crucial: Ender lives in a milieu in which the optimal size of a family is two children.  Deviating from the norm, Ender is the third child, which carries a stigma. Moreover, he is contrasted with his brother Peter, who is more aggressive and violent and with his sister Valentine, who is more sensitive and compassionate.

Graff is determined and often ruthless in testing Ender’s physical attributes as well his more analytical and intellectual abilities, such as rational problem-solving and quick but smart decision-making, when the situations call for it.

ender's_game_6Since we live now in turbulent times, dominated by threats of and actual terrorist attacks, in which children and adolescent often have to quickly mature and assume responsibilities beyond their biological age, “Ender’s Game” assumes relevancy and timeliness that many other Hollywood sci-fi-adventures lack.

It’s a credit to the filmmakers that “Ender’s Game” is rich enough in ideas and issues, and ambiguous enough in values and messages that viewers of different ages and backgrounds can relate to–and enjoy–the picture on different levels.

Though occasionally director Hood shows problems with pacing of his saga and according it the right tonality and mood, he has made a movie that is potentially provocative (even polemical in its moral concerns) as well as entertaining as a mass-oriented spectacle.

 

Credits

A Summit Entertainment release.

Produced by Gigi Pritzker, Linda McDonough, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Robert Chartoff, Lynn Hendee, Orson Scott Card, Ed Ulbrich.

Executive producers, Bill Lischak, David Coatsworth, Ivy Zhong, Venkatesh Roddam, Ted Ravinett, Deborah Del Prete, Mandy Safavi.

Directed, written by Gavin Hood, based on the novel by Orson Scott Card.

Camera, Donald M. McAlpine.

Editors, Zach Staenberg, Lee Smith.

Music, Steve Jablonsky.

Production designers, Sean Haworth, Ben Procter.

Supervising art director, A. Todd Holland; art directors, Greg Berry, Clint Wallace; set decorator, Peter Lando.

Costume designer, Christine Bieselin Clark.

Sound, Jay Meagher; sound designer/supervising sound editor, Dane A. Davis; re-recording mixers, Ron Bartlett, D.M Hemphill.

Special effects supervisor, Yves Debono; visual effects supervisor, Matthew E. Butler; visual effects, Digital Domain, Method Studios, The Embassy, Comen VFX.

Cast

Harrison Ford

Asa Butterfield

Hailee Steinfeld

Viola Davis.

Abigail Breslin.

Ben Kingsley.

Moises Arias

Aramis Knight

Suraj Parthasarathy

Khylin Rhambo

Jimmy Jax Pinchak

Conor Carroll

Nonso Anozie

Tony Mirrcandani