Sunday, November 3, 2013
Movie Review: "Ender's Game"
Based on Orson Scott Card's revered novel, Ender's Game takes place in the near future. In this future, Earth enlists kids to lead drones into battles against an evil alien race, the rationale being that kids are more in tune with technology and their minds can process more information than their adult counterparts. Asa Butterfield portrays Ender Wiggin, a teen genius, recruited to attend Battle School, an orbiting space station where these kids are trained in zero gravity. Could Ender be the Commander that the International Fleet has been looking for? Is he the one that will once and for all be able to lead the troops and destroy the alien homeworld? Well, you'll have to see the movie to find out, but what I can tell you is that Ender's Game is one of the more successful science fiction films I've seen in recent memory, and it is entirely grounded in reality.
Everything in Ender's Game feels current. While the film deals with aliens and is set in the future, the thematic ideas of bullying, violence in video games, and drone warfare, are all so of the times, the film manages to feel real and lived in. This is not a slight on the film, it's a praise of it. These are all hot button issues, a few of which I don't even know on which side I come down on, but Ender's Game has got me thinking about them, and I think that, coupled with the emotional experience that this film offers, just solidifies why I go to movies.
Ender's Game has moments of awe and wonder, there are laughs to be had, there are moments where you'll probably want to cheer, and yet, in the end, you realize that this film was never meant to be frivolous popcorn entertainment, but an involving conversation with the audience. Director Gavin Hood manages to hit all of the beats, and lends Ender's Game a voice through his smart realizations of things that must have seemed impossible to realize when reading it on the page of Card's novel, such as the Battle Room, where the kids float around in zero-G, fighting mock battles. Of course, a large part of what makes Hood's work so phenomenal and beautifully realized, is the stellar work done behind the scenes.
The film's special effects are seamless in their integration, which is a rarity nowadays. The production design is never showy, but feels authentic. Then there is Steve Jablonsky's music, which is the genuine surprise of the film for me. Jablonsky never implements a memorable theme that you will be humming for days on end, but his smart use of strings and how he orchestrated it, makes this a film score that I find hard to stop thinking about, because it's just so technically well done and is effective when it needs to be in the context of the film. However, you cannot have a film without those in front of the camera, and the actors all manage to deliver phenomenal performances.
Butterfield plays Ender like an open book. When Ender is conflicted between his leanings towards violence and empathy, we can tell what he is thinking or feeling through his facial expressions, and it works. While this type of acting is very raw and unrefined, its immediacy gives more potency to situations. Personally, I prefer performances such as this, rather than things being so internalized that we never get any facial reaction whatsoever. As for the rest of the cast, while Ender is obviously the meatiest role, there are a few key supporting roles where the actors really stand out.
Harrison Ford is in tip top shape as Colonel Graff, the head of the Battle School. I would argue he hasn't been this charming and dedicated in a role in years. Then there is Ben Kingsley and Viola Davis, both delivering their usual strong performances, even if they're nothing to write home about. After that, the rest of the cast are mostly children, or at least actors under the age of 18. Abigail Breslin makes the most out of her small, yet crucial role as Ender's older sister, Valentine, who acts as Ender's conscience. Rounding out the kids of note are Hailee Steinfeld and Moises Arias as fellow Battle School students. While Steinfeld does not have as much to do as a young actress of her caliber deserves, she manages to deliver everything with the same likability she had in True Grit. Then, there is Arias, who is having quite a year, showing his range in films like this and The Kings of Summer, with two drastically different, and equally solid performances, he is truly an actor to look out for.
Truly, if there is a drawback to Ender's Game, it is that the film is so heavy on the sci-fi jargon, without spoon feeding any of it to the audience, that I'm doubtful as to whether or not the film will have much reach beyond science fiction fans. Then, there is the fact that the film winds up favoring thought and emotion over action, and I truly wonder as to what type of box office it can have, but as a rabid science fiction fan myself, I find Ender's Game a surprise worth noting. This is one of those films that fellow sci-fi fans need to see.
I give Ender's Game an A+!