A young boy is “chosen” for being special and his skills will soon be needed to fight a necessary evil. He is recruited and sent to a school of sorts, to receive the proper training. There, he meets and befriends a rag-tag group of friends, they confront bullies and they compete as different teams in a competitive sport held in a massive arena. All adults exist only to serve as teachers and the fate of the world is solely in this young boy’s hands. No, this is not only the plot of Harry Potter, it is the exact premise of Ender’s Game (opening today).
Based on the novel by Orson Scott Card, the “Harry Potter” of this story is the young Ender Wiggin. Instead of being placed in a world of dragons, monsters and magic, Ender’s tale takes place in space. Yes, this is J.K. Rowling crossed with Gene Roddenberry and on screen, it comes across as a pale rip-off of what we’ve already seen – a la John Carter – even though the source material predates the film versions and the original Potter books that borrowed heavily from it in the first place….got all that?
After a massive alien invasion of Earth that left tens of millions of people dead, Earth is now in a heightened state of preparedness. Humanity was able to fend off the attack, mostly due to a lone heroic figure, the pilot Mazer Rackham. Some fifty years later, we have not been attacked again, but we have located the home planet of the invaders. Our top space military officers, like Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford), begin to train a massive fleet in order to launch a preemptive strike on the aliens, to prevent the threat of future attacks. Interestingly, in the future, children make up the main portion of soldiers, so skilled in video games and new technology that they are deemed the most effective in handling the innovative weaponry.
That’s when Graff – along with psychiatrist, Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) – select Ender as a possible candidate to lead the inter-planetary attack. Ender (Asa Butterfield) is a gifted “launchee” but is often picked on and bullied. They see promise in him, although his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) was deemed to compassionate and his older brother, Peter (Jimmy Pinchak) was deemed too hot-headed for the program. So he is enlisted and sent to a space station to train.
Much of the film is spent on his training exercises, as he works his way up to elite commander status, gaining the respect of his fellow soldiers along the way. We meet several others, such as Bean (Aramis Knight), Petra (Hailee Steinfeld) and Bonzo (Moises Arias) along the way, all of which you get the feeling were probably fleshed out a lot more in the book. Setting up future installments (as they definitely plan to do), the major battle towards the end only opens the door for Ender to head into new and uncharted directions.
But again, having experienced eight Harry Potter movies before seeing Ender’s Game, one can’t help but be reminded of the similarities. Often times, the copy is not nearly as thrilling as the original, as is the case here. Where Ender’s Game doesn’t mimic Harry Potter is in tone…this is an overly serious adventure with seemingly high stakes, where Harry Potter was able to infuse bits of whimsy and wonder…and comedy. Ender’s Game is devoid of fun.
Star Trek fans will instantly be reminded of the Kobayashi Maru, the “impossible, unbeatable” simulation that Captain Kirk outsmarted. Much of Ender’s time in this film is spent outsmarting computer games. The “highly logical” banter that happens between Harrison Ford and Viola Davis also feels familiarly Spock-like.
Nothing that happens in Ender’s life seems to be his fault, even when facing the responsibility of causing genocide. Though he is manipulated by others, shouldn’t there be some sort of consequence or repercussion? You would think so in a story targeted at young people.
Sometimes books are adapted effectively, and other times portions of the film seem so rushed that you can just tell that they are trying to cram in way too much of the written word. Ender’s Game suffers from the latter. It is riveting, visually, but on almost all fronts, it is no Harry Potter.
Not sure if it’s trying to be, but I wasn’t able to decipher anything resembling originality.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Run Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis
Based on the book by Orson Scott Card
Written & Directed by Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Rendition, Tsotsi, A Reasonable Man)
Opens locally on Friday, Nov 1, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli’s “Star Ratings:”
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time