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Ender's Game
Genre Sci-Fi

Ender's Game is based on Orson Scott Card's classic science fiction novel. South African writer-director, Gavin Hood, best known for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Rendition and Tsotsi, was entrusted with bringing the book to life and for the most part, he's succeeded. It's not an entirely faithful adaptation with a number of casting and story compromises for the sake of the cinematic experience, yet it retains the essence of Card's original vision.

The story follows young Ender Wiggin, played by Hugo's Asa Butterfield, who is recruited by the International Military to lead a war on the Formics, an alien race that almost destroyed humankind in a previous encounter.

Ender's Game won the Nebular award in 1985 and the Hugo award in 1986. The award-winning military sci-fi novel's '80s prominence is reflected in Hood's adaptation, which leans on aspects from a number of '80s films. There's an interesting parallel with Biloxi Blues as Ender bunks with new recruits, facing a number of social challenges, struggles for leadership and calls for respect.

Then, while probably inspired by Ender's Game, which was later adapted to harness similar themes in 1991, the film has a number of tie-ins with WarGames. Matthew Broderick's hacker skills became critical to unlocking the threat of mutually assured destruction in the '80s just as Asa Butterfield is trained to use his strategic genius to aid the military in the future.

Ender's Game features a number of battle training scenarios with futuristic gear, which are not unlike the gladiatorial games that form part of the digital world in TRON. The formations, team work, age of the contenders and bravado of the skirmishes have some similarities with the ice hockey in The Mighty Ducks and quidditch in the Harry Potter series.

The intense airborne rivalry between the Formics and humankind, echoes some The Macross Saga, in which Robotech fighter pilots battle Zentraedi forces. The alien kind are not humanoid, falling more into the category of the enemy in Starship Troopers, drawing further parallels when it comes to military service and interplanetary warfare.

Instead of portraying Ender as a six-year-old, the film-makers have opted to represent Asa Butterfield as a boy who hasn't hit puberty. This was done in order to give Hood more time to focus on character and greater flexibility when it comes to filming and wire work. Butterfield is reminiscent of John "Spud" Milton in physique and in terms of his character's rocky attempts to fit into the military "school". However, his mental resilience, hard-and-fast bargaining and leadership skills give him the upper hand when it comes to integration.

Butterfield is a solid young actor, whose performance as Ender is strong, consistent and captivating. He seemed much younger in the title role of Hugo, essentially playing a self-assured adult trapped in a 10 year old's body. The strong supporting ensemble includes: Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin and Sir Ben Kingsley. While the ensemble is more of an insurance policy than a necessity, the stand out performances come from Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley.

Harrison Ford doesn't have to earn our respect and trust, giving him instant authority as a tough, incisive and likable Colonel Graff. Ben Kingsley continues his return to form with a mysterious character, delivering a shadowy and reverent performance with little screen time.

Ender's Game is a spectacular science fiction film that is enhanced by the quality of the cinema you choose to experience it in. The futuristic visuals, battle training and dazzling display sequences blend light and colour with similar effect to TRON: Legacy using sound to steep the film in a deeply visceral, suspended reality. The special effects give the characters the illusion of weightlessness allowing us to float with them.

The film has a similar tone to The Hunger Games, where adult "games" are played by children. While the psychological angle has deeper hooks, the content seems somewhat padded, softening Ender's Game's hard edges. This placates some of the raw energy of the story and diminishes the overall impact of Ender's journey. Perhaps the PG-13 rating was a key point going in.

While Ender's Game is probably not as hard-hitting as it could have been, Gavin Hood still manages to land this military sci-fi adaptation safely, not discrediting the source material and providing an often gripping and entertaining film in the process. It's a worthy film adaptation, benefiting from a strong cast with some solid performances, a thought-provoking and universal story, sensible direction, top production values and awe-inspiring visuals.

The bottom line: Solid



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