By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood October 25, 2013 at 12:29PM
First reviews are in on "Ender's Game." The consensus thus far seems to be the film is a solidly good but not great adaptation of the Orson Scott Card sci-fi classic. A roundup, below.
The film stars Harrison Ford as the tough trainer of a batch of young fighters tasked with saving Earth from an imminent alien invasion, with Asa Butterfield ("Hugo") in the title role, Ben Kingsley as a tough veteran warrior, Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis and Abigail Breslin, and is directed by Gavin Hood ("Tsotsi,""X-Men Origins: Wolverine"). It hits theaters November 1; the trailer is here.
Check out Bill Desowitz's "Immersed in Movies" interview with Hood, on the way the film broaches technology, violence and young adults, here.
Butterfield does his best to bring you inside Ender Wiggin, using his wide, blue eyes to try and convey a depth that Hood’s script just doesn’t support. And Ford constructs a man who’s bearing vacillates between being legitimately haunted by the trauma he’s got to inflict upon a wee lad and being mildly irked, as if he doesn’t want to read the cue cards on SNL.
The special effects are fine, but Ender’s Game has the bad luck to be coming on the heels of Gravity. In the book, the scenes of combat in the Battle Room -- featuring as many as 30 kids streaking through zero-gravity, executing formations and maneuvers on the fly -- seemed to be unfilmable. While Hood and his CG wizards do a more than decent job, anyone who’s seen Alfonso Cuaron’s wizardry will have seen it done far, far better.
An anti-bullying allegory writ on the largest possible scale, “Ender’s Game” frames an interstellar battle between mankind and pushy ant-like aliens, called Formics, in which Earth’s fate hinges on a tiny group of military cadets, most of whom haven’t even hit puberty yet. At face value, the film presents an electrifying star-wars scenario — that rare case where an epic space battle transpires entirely within the span of two hours — while at the same time managing to deliver a higher pedagogical message about tolerance, empathy and coping under pressure. Against considerable odds, this risky-sounding Orson Scott Card adaptation actually works, as director Gavin Hood pulls off the sort of teen-targeted franchise starter Summit was hoping for.
Hood doesn’t bring very much in the way of sweaty-palmed tension to his combat scenes, but he does succeed in bringing some of the weightier elements of Card’s book to the big screen. Unflinchingly portraying Ender as a troubled and potentially violent young man, and those in command of him heartlessly manipulative, it’s these aspects of the story - rather than the explosions and trainee laser battles - that ultimately make it stick in the mind.
The movie's apocalyptic finale indicates that it's bitten off considerably more than it can chew in terms of ideas, but it looks good, and the story rattles along.
This starfighter-recruit blockbuster is refreshingly idea-driven for something that cost $110m, and while nothing in it requires you to sign up to Card’s politics, you’re still asked to grapple with the morality of violence in ways rarely seen in teen-targeted epics this side of The Hunger Games. Asa Butterfield, part of the problem in the disappointing Hugo, gives a much more intrepid and complex performance as Ender Wiggin, brightest fledgling in a boot camp called Battle School, where he and other youngsters prepare to save humanity by honing their skills in a series of strategic war games.
Meanwhile, Ford offers a perfect foil in Graff (more like gruff!) for Ender’s developing maturity, applying the stick and the carrot in equal measures to simultaneously build confidence and nurture his leadership skills.
Bolstered by solid performances and a clean, elegant visual style, Hood ultimately delivers a film that actually earns the distinction of being for audiences of all ages.