Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ender Plays A Decent Game

     Adapting a very popular novel is hard for many reasons, the major one being the old saying, "There's no possible way the movie can be as good as the book." Ender's Game, in particular, has more hurdles than most: its sci-fi setting, its ideas of pushing young children headfirst into battle, its author's (Orson Scott Card) asinine--and very public--views on today's society. So when the film adaptation was announced, my interest was solid yet my expectations were kept in check. There's no possible way the film adaptation could be as good as the beloved book, right? Right. Ender's Game the film version loses something in translation, a thoughtfulness and subtlety that made the book about powerful (but naive) children so potent. But it still succeeds as solid sci-fi enjoyment, a film with great acting by its lead Asa Butterfield and a story that exceeds most other tween-geared entertainment.
     Earth has been attacked by a bug-like Alien race. Years later, after the initial attack that ended in a daring suicide mission by a selfless pilot, the military grooms children into becoming powerful commanders to fend off future alien forces. Rumor has it that the aliens have begun preparing for another battle on their distant planet, so Ender (Butterfield), a 12-year-old with all the right characteristics of a commander, is chosen by Col. Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford, a gruff military man who is putting all of his hope in young Ender) to figure out a way to squash the buggers.
     Ender becomes Earth's Great Hope as he progresses through Battle School, which consists of different teams playing a zero-gravity version of paintball only with guns that shoot stun lasers instead of exploding balls. It takes a lot of strategy: random blocks float around the room (as obstructions) and teams have different formations and ideas about how to win. One problem with the film version of Ender's Game are these scenes: in the book, these battles were numerous and exciting--but the film only shows a couple, and they never come close to holding the tension that the book's battles have.
    When reading Ender's Game, you form a vision of the character of Ender in your mind (obviously). He might not look like the film version. But there's no doubt that Asa Butterfield is growing into a good actor who can command a scene--anyone that has seen Scorcese's Hugo already knows this. In the film, as he becomes more and more confident, the changes in him are portrayed with skill by Butterfield: whether he's standing up the older, higher ranked characters, forming a friendship with a young squirt named Bean (Aramis Knight), or starting a maybe-more-than-friendship with a fellow cadet named Petra (True Grit's Hailee Steinfeld), he portrays Ender with passion. If you don't enjoy Butterfield as Ender, than it's your own pre-conceived notions that are holding back your enjoyment.
     Orson Scott Card is moronic, with his personal views on homosexuality and science. But there's no doubt that his books have interesting plots that deal with bullying, notions of age and power, empathy about other species (metaphorically, other races). The main problem with the film version is that it quickly glazes over any real thoughts on these issues, and instead focuses on looking good with slick camera work and special effects. I cant imagine filmmakers would ever figure out a way to adapt the second book of the series, Speaker for the Dead--which is short on visual spectacle and filled with complicated issues about colonization. The adaptation of Ender's Game is entertaining and permeated with solid performances, but it's basically a good-looking Cliffnotes version of the book that leaves a little to be desired.     (B)

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