Review for Ender's Game
I’ve managed to avoid the young adult movie trend thus far, although the latter Harry Potter films might qualify, and when I found The Giver in a bargain bucket, it was cheap enough for me to give it a try, and thankfully not part of an extended franchise. These film franchises like Divergent, Maze Runner, and Twilight always felt like genres tailored for demographics by committee rather than enticing opportunities for storytelling. It may be an undeserved opinion, and an irrational bias, but there it is; or maybe I’m just of an age myself to prefer a little maturity in my movie protagonists. That left me a little conflicted when it came to Ender’s Game, a film which could easily be described as a young adult movie, but based on a classic science fiction novel, the sort of thing that I love to partake of.
Published in 1985, and written by Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game became a recognised classic of science fiction, and kicked off a franchise in its own right. At the time it was an allegory of the Vietnam War, with an eye on the then nascent videogame generation. This might beg the question as to whether Ender’s Game is still relevant today. But like all good science fiction, Ender’s Game is timeless, and in many ways even more relevant now. The film adaptation was made in 2013 though, and it’s taken me this long to get around to watching it.
50 years previously, the alien Formics attacked, and almost devastated the world. It was a last minute application of tactical brilliance from hero Mazer Rackham that stopped the attack in its tracks, repulsed the Formics. But it was clear that it was just a temporary respite, and the aliens would return. Earth’s effort went into preparing for this inevitable attack, and with the realisation that it is the youth that have the adaptability and drive to succeed, and the instinctive gift of analysis, the world’s best children were recruited for training and war games, to develop the next hero that will end the war once and for all.
Ender Wiggin is a rare third; his parents were given permission to have a third child when his elder siblings showed high promise, but didn’t quite make the grade. The burden of expectation weighs heavily on his young shoulders, especially from Colonel Graff, who sees the best prospect of a hero in young Ender. But before Ender can be given that mantle, he has to be tested beyond his limits, to see if he has the right balance of the ruthlessness that disqualified his older brother, and the compassion that disqualified his sister.
Ender’s Game gets a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, with the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo English with optional English subtitles. With such a recent film, there are no problems here with the transfer. The image is clear and sharp, detail levels are good, and colours are rich and consistent. The audio puts you in the middle of the action, while keeping the dialogue clear. The effects are really well accomplished, and appear seamless, to the point that the Making Of documentary comes as a disappointment, when you see just how much green screen there is in this film.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray. The disc autoplays with trailers for more Entertainment One titles, Need for Speed, Divergent, Paranoia, and The Family before booting an animated menu.
On the disc you’ll find the following extras.
Audio Commentary from Director Gavin Hood
Audio Commentary from Producers Gigi Pritzker and Bob Orci
Ender’s World: The Making of Ender’s Game x8 (49:31)
Deleted/Extended Scenes with optional director’s commentary x6 (11:09)
As mentioned, the 8-part Making Of might not be for you if the sight of wall to wall green screen dispirits you as much as it does me.
Ender’s Game is visually arresting, had some compelling ideas, and it tells its story with pace and with gusto. Yet ultimately the film leaves me cold, an uninvolving and distant experience. Ender’s Game’s story is ultimately about creating a war without consequences, yet the film is structured in such a way, telling Ender’s story from his point of view, keeping him isolated from the real world, that the film itself lacks for consequences, and indeed context. We’re presented with Ender’s personal reality, but the larger reality of his world is absent.
You can see the Vietnam allegory with ease, a war in which young adults were sent off to fight in a distant land, often without knowing exactly why they were fighting. Ender’s Game is the next level up from that, with children taken practically from the cradle to be trained for war, and with the war presented in such a way that they are completely detached from the reality of the experience. If the purpose of military training is to instil the chain of command, to turn the individual into a cog in the military machine, then Ender’s Game is the ultimate expression of that process. His instructors’ goal is to create the next generation of monsters to fight the monsters from without, with no hesitation or mercy.
The emotional core of the story is Ender’s own disdain for authority, and the conflict between his humanity and the monster within. Add to this the presence of Colonel Graff, whose job it is to create these killing machines, but doing so by acting as a father figure to them, and especially Ender. For me, these ideas didn’t quite work, lost against the spectacle of the special effects.
You can see the modern day relevance of Ender’s Game with ease though, the idea of children raised on games, and video games especially, as having the reaction times and situational awareness to best serve in combat. The combat in this film is mirrored in modern technological militaries unleashing death by drone, piloted by soldiers safe, thousands of miles away, flying by remote. There are concerns about the psychological effects of this kind of warfare, which are certainly reflected in the film, although the idea of gaming being a province of the young has been discredited as the young gamers of 1985 that inspired the book, have grown up, still grasping their joypads and controllers well into middle age.
Ultimately, Ender’s Game disappoints because it fails to show the outside world, the society that determines that an interstellar war with the Formics needs to be fought, the consequences of Ender’s actions, or the complexities of the philosophies at the heart of the story. Ironically, Ender’s Game feels like a videogame, a detached experience, while the ending feels tacked on like an afterthought. As the end credits rolled, all I could think was that it was no Starship Troopers.