Sunday, 3 November 2013

Ender's Game Review

I came out of yesterday afternoon's showing of Ender's Game with a huge headache and feeling very confused. I even said so to Mr. Potenti. He started to helpfully explain what the entire movie was about. "No, no, no," I protested wearily. "not confused like that, but, confused." You know you have to be pretty confused when you don't even know why! 

The wild differences in reviews made us waffle about wanting to see it. People either love it or hate it. Some said it was close to the book, while others said chunks had been left out. But with nothing else to do but watch the snow fall, we were among the few who trekked out to the theatre - it was only half full. Neither of us have read the book, surprisingly enough, and it isn't hiding on the bookshelf. We went in with low expectations and none of that "Will the book be better than the movie?" baggage.

If you haven't read the book, it's about a young boy, Ender Wiggin, who demonstrates the skill and savvy to be a great battle commander against Earth's ant like enemies, the Formics. The Formics haven't attacked Earth for 50 years, but it won't stop the International Fleet from letting it happen again. Gifted children are trained in the ways of war and it is kind of painful to see them manipulated by a larger war machine against an enemy from a different generation. The world is so joyless for them. Heck, even in the first ten minutes we see Ender brutally beat up a kid who threatened him. Some reviewers have noted that the violence was toned down to make the children more acceptable to audiences. Ender's siblings, Peter and Valentine, flunked out of Battle School for not having the right stuff.

The story of an exceptionally skilled chosen child is a pretty standard one, and there are some that even accused JK Rowling of stealing from Ender's Game. In these stories the reader or viewer enjoys the growth of the character from orphan/deck scrubber/thief to president/admiral/CEO. Maybe that's what was wrong - Ender is quickly promoted through the ranks and there really is no sense of time passing. He comes out on the other end looking exactly the same (in the book it takes years). This is one of the reasons why I don't feel it's a movie for young people - there's no emotional or physical growth to Ender.

I rewatched the trailers, and still don't understand what I saw. There's no romance between Petra and Ender, and to be honest, the two trailers kind of give a lot a way :\. Graff makes the other children hate Ender, but he ends up making friends. Graff says he plans to isolate him, but he never seems to be that way - there's no sense that the geeky Ender is lonely, just a loner.

The special effects, set designs and battle scenes were pretty good, although not really thrilling. One could almost wait for the DVD because there aren't any eye popping effects. The design of the Formic ships were cool, although the constant blue grey tone of Battle School felt oppressive at times. Maybe that's what gave me the headache! The cast was stellar and has too much talent to fail, although Ben Kingsley gets such a small role. The cast was racially diverse and Asa Butterfield was simply stellar as Ender. And although Harrison Ford played Hyram Graff lazily, he pulled off grumpy old warmonger pretty well. It would seem that Ender's Game is just a technically well done movie without the heart and story to go along with it. The movie starts out decently, but gets choppier and choppier in the second half trying to cram more and more in (and it's 114 minutes by the way). Maybe the reason I felt so beat up by the end was that it was too hard to suspend my disbelief - every scene change and little inconsistency wore my brain down. Despite being an opening weekend, the audience lacked the usual buzz and energy, so maybe it just wasn't me. When Ender triumphs, the feeling just wasn't there in the theatre. I left without feeling entertained, unsure of the point of the film and confused about what it was trying to accomplish. Ender's Game would have been better served by being released in two parts, but no studio would want to take a chance on that. Some have said that it was an unfilmable, but it's just a story not well-told :\

Yesteday I remarked how I was glad that the movie wasn't made in the 80s - it would have looked awful! Today we joked that we don't own a copy of 1984's The Last Starfighter, where a teenager is recruited for his video game prowess. It runs about the same time as Ender's Game, but even with its cheap effects and dorky haircuts, it would seem a vastly superior and well-told story about the militarization of young people.