Screened Out – Ender’s Game

By : Stephen Miller
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Asa Butterfield, Hailie Steinfeld, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Abigail Breslin

Should you see Ender’s Game? It offers some spectacular visuals; that alone wins over many moviegoers. The 1980 novel is well written enough (despite Orson Scott Card’s nasty comments about LGBT rights, and I’ll delve into that later).

However, this film is only average. So much emotional punch depends on teenaged actors who fail to deliver. The filmmakers never strike a balance between entertainment and exploration of difficult themes. The impressive effects have to carry this film, because the more dramatic, troubling moments are left seriously wanting.

Ender (Butterfield) is a child warrior, born and bred to fight. The whole Earth is committed to wiping out an alien race 50 years after the aliens’ violent attack. The greatest pride for a parent is to have a child soldier train and strike back at the aliens for what they did. Ender is sent to battle camp under leader Ford, who is manipulative and tough, trying to shape the boy into more than just a young soldier, into the ultimate leader.

There’s too little heart to the drama in Ender’s Game, and its coldness and vagueness means it never fully entertains us. Teenager Butterfield is passable as the creepy soldier (though his shouting orders made me giggle). Nothing leads me to believe he has a conscience buried in there, one that would genuinely rage at the price of war. If he is driven to find the peaceful solution, the script doesn’t allow him to act on it throughout the film.

Heavyweights like Ben Kingsley and Harrison Ford assist Asa Butterfield.

Heavyweights like Ben Kingsley and Harrison Ford assist Asa Butterfield.

Besides extracting only tepid performances from his actors, writer/director Gavin Hood has a misconception about what it means to be intriguing. His adaptation raises dozens of weird, uncomfortable questions and then abandons them altogether, leaving the audience lost in space. Was Ender bred to fight? Did his parents love him? His brother is a failed soldier; what does his future now look like? These are just a few of the loose ends presented within the first ten minutes of a film chock full of them.

Still, I admit Ender’s Game is visually arresting. Apparently, all the money was spent on sets and special effects instead of improving the choppy script and rehearsing the inexperienced actors.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

Reviewing Ender’s Game for Watermark comes with some risk. In general, reader comments and conversations over the last 6 years have confirmed that we all love science fiction flicks. However, Orson Scott Card, the man who created this specific source material (who was paid a flat 1.5 million for the material years ago) has recently said some pretty whacky stuffy about gay rights, race relations, and politics. Many groups have called for a boycott, even after star Harrison Ford and studio Summit Entertainment voiced their disagreement with the author.

Whether you see Ender’s Game is entirely up to you. You can choose to miss it because you want to boycott the author’s ugly beliefs. (Reports two days ago suggested hitting Card in his wallet and halting any purchase of his books.) Or you can skip it, even with its nascent, fascinating ideas and eye-popping effects,  because there’s more developed stuff with stronger acting out there.

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