by Coop Cooper
Although it never had the level of exposure as “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games”, the “Ender’s Game” series of books predates those blockbuster franchises and has a large fan-base dating back to the mid-1980’s when it won the Nebula Award for ‘Best Novel’. Its adaptation to film has been attempted several times in the past but budget restrictions and the difficult special effects scenes (much like the situation with “John Carter of Mars”) kept the adaptation from going into production until F/X technology could affordably catch up to the story’s demands. Now the film adaption has finally come to pass and its potential success could initiate a new blockbuster franchise, but only if it meets the expectations of fans, critics and most importantly… the box office.
Years after an alien invasion nearly destroyed Earth, human forces have been struggling to build military might in order to defend against the ‘Formics’, an insectoid alien race. Deciding the best defense is a good offense, Earth forces lead by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) begin searching for child prodigies to command a complex fleet of carriers, drones and dreadnaughts to carry out a counter-strike on the Formic home world. Far more brilliant than the rest of the recruits, Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) becomes the primary candidate for Fleet Commander but Graff’s harsh physical training and cruel mind games take a toll on the young genius. As Ender is pushed to the breaking point, he begins to question the motives of his superiors and the intent of the Formics.
Its nice to see Harrison Ford doing sci-fi again and thankfully the often exhausted-looking actor displays a spark in him I haven’t seen since the 90’s. Ben Kingsley also pops up as the mysterious, tattooed-faced Maori war hero Mazer Rackham. His choice in roles are notoriously hit-or-miss and luckily this one is a hit. Hailee Steinfeld of the “True Grit” remake plays Petra Arkanian, a friend and potential love interest for Ender and she manages to squeeze a lot out of performance out of her small role. Asa Butterfield is entering his teen ‘awkward stage’ since his prepubescent role in the 2011 Academy Award nominee “Hugo” but it serves him well as the gangly prodigy Ender. It’s hard to predict if Butterfield will grow into a seriously talented adult actor (it worked out great for Natalie Portman but not so well for Haley Joel Osment). I have a good feeling about him but post-puberty has fallen many a brilliant child actor.
The book is a spiritual brother to Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” novel although it has very little in common with the tone of the “Starship Troopers” film adaptation. Regardless of its teen-friendly rating, there are some advanced themes and subjects explored here. Genocide, forcing children to fight wars, putting adult-sized emotional weight on children, bullying/hazing as part of training… At times it gets as dark as “The Hunger Games” and darker than “Harry Potter” but it retains its sci-fi sense of wonder throughout. The musical score is top-notch and the special effects, nearly flawless.
While the themes have caused minor controversy, the author has caused even more. Orson Scott Card has recently been tied to vicious anti-gay rhetoric as well as making public, yet indirect threats against President Obama. This has prompted some, including some longtime fans of the “Ender’s Game” novel series to boycott the film. Despite these issues, the film has gained some critical acclaim as well as topping the box office for its opening weekend (thankfully beating out “Bad Grandpa” for the number one spot).
The film is a minor triumph and destined to be a cult favorite among young adults, regardless as to whether they were previously exposed to the book series or not. I want to see more of Ender’s universe and where his story is heading, but his cinematic fate is at the mercy of box office numbers. Since there is nothing like it coming out this year, it may catch the attention of sci-fi fans. If not, it could suffer the same fate as the unfairly maligned “John Carter” adaptation.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars