film review: Ender’s Game (2013)

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film review: Ender’s Game (2013)

50 years after Earth was devastated by an alien invasion, an unusual child arises who just might be the key to ensuring the survival of the human race.

As you may or may not know, I’m a huge fan of sci-fi and Ender’s Game is based on one of the most influential sci-fi novels of all time. So of course my interest was piqued.

Depending on how you look at cinema, there’s either a lot, or very little, good sci-fi on offer in cinema these days. I would argue the latter. There’s a school of thought out there that feels that as long as there’s aliens or space ships or futuristic technology, you’re looking at a sci-fi film. I suppose in a very literal sense, it’s true, but to me films like Star Trek (the recent ones) and Super 8 are really just action flicks dressed in sci-fi costume. True sci-fi, to me, needs to look beyond the space ships and delve into ideas – morality, society – just because you can wield the light sabre, should you?

By that yardstick, Ender’s Game is an excellent sci-fi flick. They’re spoiling us this year, Cloud Atlas (review) AND Ender’s Game? Maybe there really is a resurgence in the genre. Insofar as two films is a resurgence. What’s less encouraging though is that both these films are essentially independent films. Big budgeted ones it’s true but without the weight of a big studio behind them, it’s difficult to predict commercial success – just look at Cloud Atlas – and thus this resurgence might be over before it really begins.

Of course, Cloud Atlas was a whole different kettle of fish. It was based on a famously difficult novel and made no concessions to a wider audience whatsoever. Ender’s Game, while dealing with difficult themes, is firmly in the Young Adult category. I’d like to think that the youth of today might still be interested in asking the moral questions dealt with in the film. Or if not, then hopefully enough of the people who were “young adults” in the ’80s and ’90s will be interested in seeing a childhood fave on the big screen.


But what of the film. You’ve probably already guessed but I found it thoroughly enjoyable. I’ve heard that there are quite a few changes from the book, particularly that Ender starts the novel as a 6 year old. The film’s Ender is, I would guess, around 12 years old and training is accelerated. Not knowing that at the time, I thought that Asa Butterfield (of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo) was perfect in the role. The rest of the cast, aside from Harrison Ford, don’t get much screen time however the young people do a fine job and manage to establish their characters in the little time they have.

As an adaptation it’s good work. Gavin Hood serves as director and screenplay writer as he did for the Oscar-winning Tsotsi. Ender’s Game keeps pace without leaving you feeling like too much is missing. That said, with such a wealth of material to adapt, it’s impossible to not feel here and there that there should be more than what we’re seeing, even if it’s only to add depth. In particular there’s one element that I felt we could have used more time with… the film’s just under two hours long and I know that I often complain about films padding out the running time but I do feel an extra 10 mins could have elevated this to a contemporary sci-fi classic.

It’s worth mentioning as well that the CGI looks fantastic, no mean feat considering the complex aerial and space battles on offer. It’s likely there was minimal set so it really was up to the CGI to create the universe the film inhabits. At $110 million there was obviously budget there, but unlike some films with even bigger budgets, this was money very well spent.

Ender’s Game is a confident and worthwhile adaptation of what must have been quite a daunting novel. I don’t know what fans of the book will make of it, given that (I gather) Hood had to make some rather large excisions and changes, however as a sci-fi fan I strongly a swift trip to the cinema… if only because I worry that it won’t be around for long.


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