Ender’s Game review

Review Ryan Lambie 24 Oct 2013 - 14:05

An 80s sci-fi novel gets the big-screen treatment in Ender's Game, starring Harrison Ford and Asa Butterfield. Here's Ryan's review...

Lots of science fiction movies deal with the build-up and impact of an alien invasion, but relatively few deal with how societies react and rebuild in the aftermath. Ender’s Game - based on the 1985 novel by Orson Scott Card - is rather different. Taking place 50 years after a battle with an insect-like race called the Formics, Ender’s Game sees Earth’s victorious survivors battle-hardened and willing to do just about anything to prevent an incursion happening again.

One of the terran military’s tactics against the Formics involves the training of adolescent troops to fight on our planet’s behalf - their youthful minds being more adept at controlling complex space-faring battleships. One such trainee is Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a slight yet forceful young lad who hopes to gain the approval of his father by becoming a military success.

Under the watchful eye of Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), Ender’s coaxed through boot camp, beginning with zero-G military exercises on an orbiting space station before getting to the task at hand: finding a way to defeat the Formics.

In what could be described as a struggle to sell what is a fairly dark fable about war and empathy, Ender’s Game has been pitched as a "Harry Potter meets Star Wars" PG-13 bit of fantasy fun (this is, in fact, the line seen on the film’s television advertising in the UK). But really, Ender’s Game is more like Starship Troopers crossed with Full Metal Jacket; for a story with a potentially young audience, it delves quite deeply into the way Ender’s military training accentuates his more aggressive tendencies. Throughout, Graff uses the boy’s anger and desire to beat his opponents at any cost; by turning war into a game, Graff plans to turn Ender into a miniature Julius Caesar.

“The purpose of this war is to prevent all future wars,” is the colonel's means of justifying his pre-emptive attack on the Formics and the use of kids to fight his battles. I'd hesitate to say that either the source novel or the film are anti-war, but both appear to explore the blurry moral lines involved in conflict, and how military training positively encourages soldiers to bury their human emotions. How very young audiences will take to these themes is anyone’s guess, but there’s no denying that they make Ender’s Game something more than just a PG-13 special effects fest.

Younger viewers may also grow fidgety through Ender’s lengthy training process, which largely involves a kind of laser-tag death match in zero gravity. Rather than bringing pace and aggression to these battles, writer and director Gavin Hood instead presents them as a graceful dervish of floating limbs and criss-crossing laser bolts, and it has to be said that, once you’ve seen one of these skirmishes, you’ve really seen them all.

There are problems, too, with Hood’s adapted screenplay, especially in the first half. Some lines of dialogue either land with an ungainly thud ("My father trained horses, and I know a thoroughbred when I see one"), or come across as dry exposition - a side-effect, perhaps, of attempting to compress a novel with a complex back story into a relatively brief (110-or-so minute) movie.

Ender’s presented as an oddly cold, unblinking protagonist, and although his military training would explain why he’s such a serious young chap, it’s a pity that the movie’s opening couldn’t give us more of an insight into his everyday personality outside boot camp. The movie is, after all, about the transformation of a boy into a battle-ready commander, and had the first act given us more of a sense that, deep down, Ender was really just another Pokemon-loving kid (kids still like Pokemon, don't they?), the rest of the film could have been carried more dramatic weight.

Such seriousness aside, Asa Butterfield carries the movie well, and in the more intense second half, he acquits himself well both physically and dramatically. And make no mistake, this is Butterfield’s movie. Harrison Ford may be a famous name beneath the title, but he has little to do other than look slightly tired and pensive, and talk to his underlings about Ender’s promise as a military leader. Hailee Steinfeld is likeable as Petra, one of Ender’s fellow trainees, but she’s given relatively little to do other than press buttons.

It’s been a strong year for visually striking science fiction films, with Joseph Kosinski’s devastated future Earth in Oblivion, Neill Blomkamp's Los Angeles favelas in Elysium, and Alfonso Cuaron’s breathtaking orbiting vistas in GravityEnder’s Game can’t compare to those in terms of world-building or sheer jaw-dropping imagination, but its production design is shiny and convincing, and the Formic ships are engagingly spiky, vicious-looking things.

Hood doesn’t bring very much in the way of sweaty-palmed tension to his combat scenes, but he does succeed in bringing some of the weightier elements of Card’s book to the big screen. Unflinchingly portraying Ender as a troubled and potentially violent young man, and those in command of him heartlessly manipulative, it’s these aspects of the story - rather than the explosions and trainee laser battles - that ultimately make it stick in the mind.

Ender's Game is out on the 25th October in UK cinemas.

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It hards not to think of the film, without the contraversial religious bigotry surrounding it, and for that reason I'm out

I loved the book, devoured it in half a day, so really hoping this lives up to it.

Me too! Don't think the film will live up to it, though, sadly.

That seems a bit silly. I'm sure you will already have watched and read things written by people whose beliefs and opinions you'd strongly disagree with, you just haven't known it. And are those things reasons to not enjoy their work?

I guess it's a matter of degree. I can much better enjoy the work of people who I believe or suspect are jerks—e.g. Sinatra, Danny Kaye, Orson Welles—than the work of people who say the kinds of thoroughly repellent things OSC has.

I think Card is a special case, though. He's poured such a large amount of money into foundations that take away people's rights that it's a little more than "beliefs and opinions".

I see they changed the name of the Aliens from 'buggers' then...!

They were always called Formics; people just referred to them as buggers.

true but then again he probably got most his money for the movie upfront when the book was optioned so it is unclear how much benefit his hate groups will get from the boxoffice.

i enjoyed the book but this looks a bit rubbish tbh

I'm glad to see you corrected "Braff" to "Graff," but Ender's last name is "Wiggin," not "Wiggins." #corrections

Good review overall, though I have an issue with this part:

"Ender’s presented as an oddly cold, unblinking protagonist, and although his military training would explain why he’s such a serious young chap, it’s a pity that the movie’s opening couldn’t give us more of an insight into his everyday personality outside boot camp."

Remember, this is a kid who, at five, nearly beat a bully to death so he wouldn't have to fight other bullies every day. He's very pragmatic, even before Battle School, which is one of the reasons he was recruited.

I've been looking forward to this for many years despite the author controversy. Tom Cruise is still a good actor despite the crazy and Mel Gibson is still a good director despite the racism. Besides, it was written almost 30 years ago, so let it go...

Everyone in the novel refers to them as 'buggers' but later on there are a few references to the aliens as Formics.

It's discouraging that the laser tag battles grow tiring fast as they are a good portion of the book, and IMO, the best part of the book. i remember being endlessly eager to find out how Ender would use his clever battle tactics to defeat every challenge they threw at him. The originality in the tactics that Ender applies in every situation is one half of what endears this book to me. The other half is the way Card creates deeply human characters that you can't help but care for and empathize with. Which makes it even worst that Card can write such stunning human characters while spending all his time and money on persecuting his fellow humans because of a difference in ideologies.

meh.. i draw the line at those who use their financial gain for evil.. and for that reason, i too am out.

Dave, in the original book (and novella) they were "Buggers."

Talking about how Butterfield can and does carry the movie, and how Hood /does/ deal with the darker thematic aspects relieves two of my 3 or 4 greatest fears for this film. I'll be seeing it, regardless; at least now I can go in a little more...trusting of what they might have done to one of my favorite books!

(Even though I think Sywak's Battle School designs, in the Marvel Comics and "The Authorized Ender Companion" will always be my first choice!)

I was really hoping for a colder, more Kubrickian take on the book, since I just feel that the story feels ,ore at home in that darker world. Still sounds worthwhile, but I guess I was gonna be dissapointed somehow anyway.

Yup - first book I ever read in one sitting. An awesome rainy Sunday at grandma's house! Films almost never live up to the books, so we can hardly be surprised.

Actually, Card used 'buggers' in the original novel, but when "Starship Troopers" came out in theaters, he was afraid people would associate the bugs in that movie with Ender's Game. So in future books he changed to using 'formics' and he has been consistent ever since.

It's weird seeing Trevor with all that ink on his face.

It says in the book that "buggers" was the slang/derogatory way that people referred to the aliens but their official/real name were Formics. Sort of like when bigots refer to Middle Eastern people as "towel heads". I think I can guess why the film might skip the slang term buggers since in England it is a derogatory term for homosexuals and given Card's history of intolerance they obviously don't want to go there. So, Formics was in the book.

That's not true. It's right there in the original Ender's Game novel. It is explained that "buggers" is the derogatory/slang way people refer to the aliens but their official/real name for the race of aliens are the Formics.

That is largely irrelevant. Yes, chances are he has already got paid, and financially boycotting the film will do nothing. But that doesn't mean that people have to abandon their principles, and support a film that will financially gain a man who uses his money to fund groups who continuously fight to remove people's rights, and win.
The film will be a financial and big budget success, but that doesn't mean I have to be part of that. I'm out.

Yep I totally agree. To call Ender "just another Pokemon-loving kid " is a complete misreading of the source material. While trying to avoid spoilers I’ll just say that a common theme throughout the book was that Ender was exceptional and certainly not your average kid.

I was never going to see this regardless of how good it was. Scott Card is more than just a homophone, he said be believes gay people should be in jail. He's an utterly loathsome, repulsive person. To cap it all, he's even an anti-science climate change denier.

wasn't saying that people need to abandon their principles just pointing out that thinking box office boycott was going to stem his ability to fund hate groups might be unfounded.
I had no intention of seeing the movie either.

If you think about how many people picked up JK Rowling's books only after seeing the movies, then this movie might stir up additional interest in Card's work, and therefore additional revenue.

Why did my reply never show up? Was it moderated out of existence?

Check wikipedia's entry on the term Formics, jst4phun. It's clear that Formics wasn't used until 1999, long after Ender's Game. You might have a newer copy that was retro-edited, but the original didn't call them Formics.

Tell us how you really feel, intolerant Inaba-kun.

I doubt this is a spoiler, but.....

I wonder if Valentine and Peter are mentioned. Ender as "the third", and a middle ground between the two is an important part of defining his character. For such a short book there's quite a good backstory which I quite enjoyed.

I wonder if they have the shuttle scene and the shower scene...

That doesn't make any sense at all. Unless you're saying we should tolerate bigots, because I don't believe we should. Some views are simply demonstrably wrong, as in the case of Scott Card's anti-science beliefs, or some views are morally offensive and at adds with the civilised world, such as Scott Card's extreme hatred of gay people.

He belongs in a different era, I'm sure he'd of been happy burning "witches".

But that's my point. Card doesn't hate gay people. He, like most Christians, feel that homosexuality is a sin against God. It's the same as someone who lies, or someone who steals, or someone who gossips, or...

In other words, we are all sinners, and homosexuality is one of those sins. Card openly says he has friends who are gay and as long as they respect his religious beliefs, he respects their sexual preferences.

You claim to be on "the right side of history" (an egotistical, self-righteous view if I've ever seen one), but if God is real and god disapproves of homosexuality, you will be on the losing end.

I guess when we die we'll find out if there's nothing (from your view) or something (from mine). Or a heaven filled with Elvis impersonators (from a freakish version of hell).

To claim that this view is "demonstrably wrong" is (dare I say it) close-minded toward religious people, and bigoted.

Of course it's demonstrably wrong. Justifying hating a group of people because the voices in your head told you to do so is beyond ridiculous, in fact it's dangerous, and you need to seek medical help.

Those on the side of evidence, reason, and rationality have won the argument. We have facts on our side. Climate change is proven. Evolution is proven. Homosexuality is genetic. The earth is billions of years old. Women are as intelligent as men. And there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that any sort of supernatural powers (gods, ghosts, whatever) could ever be real, which is to say, they are merely the product of childish, deluded, foolish and naive minds.

Scott Card is a bigot, and believes in magic and nonsense. As do you it seems, which is sad and pathetic.

I agree with you not watching this if it means supporting someone like Scott Card

And you are one hell of a hypocritical bigot and an arrogant arsehole!!

Voicing why you aren't going to support the movie is fine, but then proceeding to insult a fellow commenter over your own prejudice beliefs is a step too far! Read your comments lad, you will see how bigoted you are yourself!

What nonsense. All that matters is evidence. Any belief which lacks evidence is worthless, and there is no evidence to support religion. It's simple logic.

That people like Scott Card use these absurd and childish beliefs to justify truly horrific bigotry against gay people is sickening. Scott Card is on record as saying he believes gay people belong in jail. That's what religion does to people. Well, that or hating women or committing acts of violence.

And you know what, what you start calling people "arseholes" instead of debating the evidence, then you have lost the argument already. Now grow up and think carefully before saying such things again.

Then it will be easy for you to prove that God doesn't exist. I await your evidence.

Still waiting....

You *do* know what "demonstrably wrong" means, right? It means you can demonstrate (prove) that you are right. So prove that God doesn't exist.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The onus is on those making claims which defy the laws of physics to prove them beyond reasonable doubt.

If you are seriously suggesting that magic is real, you are the one who must prove it. Until then, I have the scientific knowledge of the last thousand years on my side.

If they had just shown Ender using his "the enemy's gate is down" theory in the battle room it would have held more weight and foreshadowed the final battle 100x better then 1 line early on and would have helped further display his ability to adapt to situations and bring those experiences forward to his time in command school.

i think part of the problem the film faced in creating characters on screen that we could care for is that it started with Ender grown up. We don't get to see him struggle as a small child to be accepted by his peers. In fact we hardly got to see him struggle at all. A couple of fights with older kids but generally he isn't the outcast the book makes him out to be to begin with. They tried to do it with Graff singling him out but it didn't really work. He won his friends respect too easily.

I'm also glad someone else struggles to reconcile the themes portrayed within the book to Card's personal views. Especially once you get to Speaker of The Dead, they are a complete contradiction and I wish more people would realise that and give the book/film the time it deserves regardless of the views Card holds.

You said (and I quote) "demonstrably wrong." So the onus is on you, silly. You said it was easy to prove wrong, so I'm just asking you to prove it.

Nobody mentioned magic. And scientific knowledge is useful, but not the end-all, be-all. An honest scientist would admit that.

You're quote is demonstrably out of context. He said "Some views are simply demonstrably wrong, as in the case of Scott Card's anti-science beliefs." He mentioned Card's beliefs regarding climate change and sexual orientation. THOSE ARE BOTH ANTI-SCIENTIFIC BELIEFS.

As to whether any god exists, there is no way to prove OR disprove such a thing. So you're simply attempting to trick him with sophistry - and transparent sophistry, at that.

Nice try, though.

However, the very specific god of the bible is in fact demonstrably wrong. He supposedly authored the bible, yet he stated that the earth is 6,000 years old, for one. And there are many more examples of the biblical god being clearly false. But you know that. You have a computer and you can do a google search on biblical atheism. This doesn't prove the non-existence of a supreme being, but it proves that the one described in the bible is categorically non-existent.

Talk about sophistry... Card isn't anti-science. He's anti-politically-manipulated science. It's funny how the "global warming" crowd became the "climate change" crowd when warming slowed, then said "There's a pause, but we don't know why... ocean water maybe?!"

Human-based climate change is far from proven. Those of you who claim it is are either in denial or are stuck in group-think and only listen to what your itching ears want to hear. Either way, it's not impressive.

And the Bible never said the earth is 6,000 years old, so your "demonstrably wrong" claim is demonstrably false. The people who believe the earth is that old have used genealogies to come up with that number, but isn't mentioned in scripture. Maybe you should learn about something before criticizing it... Or maybe you're comfortable just thinking you're really smart and clever and those right-wing tea-baggers are all fools.

The recent IPCC report concluded that there is a 95% chance that humans are responsible for climate change. That is the consensus of the very best climate scientists in the world. If you don't believe them, then you, to be frank, are a fool.

Then again, the foolish and intellectually challenged of society seem to buy into idiotic beliefs wholesale. Climate change denial, creationism, UFOs, ghosts, homophobia, racism, sexism, homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, gods, demons, pixies, tooth fairies.. the works.

Anyway, this ends here. Trying to talk reason with someone of such limited intelligence is a total waste of time.

I wasn't debating the fact that you are an hypocritical, arrogant arsehole, merely stating the fact.

And I wasn't questioning you on Scott Cards morality, I agree with you partially, but commenting on how you yourself commenting in such a bigoted way.

Classy. What a pleasant person you must be.

Translation: I can't really back up my beliefs so I'm running away.

I hear you. But the next time you think someone has "limited intelligence," maybe you should take a step back and wonder why you think you're so smart. Because the person you are arguing with *just might* be smarter than you.

I'm merely looking at the evidence, such as you do for your prejudice beliefs.

Anyway, I was t looking for a fight, merely pointing out your own hypocrisy.
Have a nice day, maybe tomorrow we can be friends.

And you check the personal beliefs and ethics of every company director before you buy their products do you? (And that's what a movie is, a product). Personally I live in happy ignorance. I eat McDonalds burgers and enjoy them without thinking how they're made. I drink Coke and I shop at capitalist money grabbing supermarkets. I don't look or care how animals are treated before I buy the meat. I watch films and enjoy them without checking first if people involved are homophobic or racist or mass murdering lunatics. I don't give a damn if a film maker is a loathsome person, I care only if I like the movie. It's a product. Of course if you feel strongly against an issue you can vote with your feet, but you should apply that same ethic to everything else, not just movies. And I bet you don't check the ethics of every shop or manufacturer before you purchase something. There are a lot of people in Hollywood who are somewhere between annoying and loathsome but I still like their films. Eg. Tom Cruise and Will Smith. Can't stand their personalities but they do make some good films. (And some crap ones too!)

Fine but do you agree with checking if you agree with the beliefs of every other product manufacturer out there before you buy their products? Why single out just this one movie maker, why not the many other unethical people who sell products?

Hold it. What's "idiotic" about a belief in UFOs?

What really matters to me is how good the movie is and how cool do the aliens look.

I don't know what the shuttle scene is but they had the shower scene

"You run into an asshole in the morning, then you ran into an asshole, You run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole!" - Dustin, this is not aimed at you, I just found your comment interesting and well presented, it reminded me of my more blunt approach!

not nessercarily and its not that Enders Game is one of the only films i have boycotted I may watch Enders Game later if on TV or something but I personally I don't want to give money to someone like that. I hope that doesnt sound too harsh

I'm not a Card apologist, but I believe that having the ability to write something completely against your ethos and beliefs speaks to his ability as a writer.

Nice to see the rights of human beings mean less to you than two hours of entertainment.

Orson Scott Card is a homophone? For what? I can't think of any words that sound the same as his name. Or did you mean 'homophobe'?

Card is clearly on the LOSING side in history. If gay love is a sin to God, and God exists, I am proud to be opposed to him. Of course, he doesn't and therefore it isn't.

You would ignore the proof it it was shown, so why bother trying? Its certainly possible to prove the Christian concept of God is logically incoherent and contradictory, but it takes more than a short forum post to do so.

Scientists always called it climate change, just because the media called it something else doesn't mean a damned thing.

The Bible certainly says mankind is 6000 years old - add up the ages given in the genealogies. We know this to be false.

Actually man made climate change is not 'far from proven', its 95% certain according to actual professional scientists who actually spend their careers studying it. You are simply, factually wrong.

Dude. If you really think the IPCC is a neutral party (given that their name includes the phrase "climate change") then you are not very bright.

"Actual professional" scientists disagree with the theory of man-made climate change on a regular basis. They are pilloried for 'rocking the boat' by the scientists whose funding relies on bad news.

You are simply, factually a sheep.

You are arguing from a bad position, Mark. The Bible does *NOT* say what you are claiming it says. And I already pointed out the genealogies issue, if you took the time to read, What those genealogies don't account for is longer lifespans in the Old Testament and the amount of time Adam and Eve's family spent in the garden of Eden.

But as I said before, you are free to think you are smarter than everyone else. Even when you repeat old arguments (in a static message board you can freely read at your leisure) and make broad claims about the IPCC, which I doubt you are a member of.

Have fun with that.

Oh. So "logically incoherent and contradictory" and "demonstrably false" are the same thing now? Good thing you're with us, "bad semantic police."

You are wrong. God exists. And you will bow before him one day. I pray that you approach God with more humility than you approach humans.

You are wrong. If you added up all of the years of human activity and asked "Did the majority of humans allow slavery or disallow it?" you would have an interesting conundrum. For most of humanity, slavery has been a "thing." So if you are anti-slavery, you are - quite literally - on the wrong side of history. Sure, you could point to a theoretical future where 6,000 years from now humanity hasn't had slavery, but that's conjecture. In the here and now, slavery is the majority of our existence.

I'm not saying it's right or good. In fact, I think it's terrible. But your reasoning about the "right side of history" is just trying to find a good-feeling catchphrase to bolster your side.

It doesn't actually *mean* anything. At all.

You are wrong at a far deeper and more fundamental level than is really addressable here. You force yourself to fit every idea to the unsupported and unsupportable idea that an invisible super-being has absolute moral authority. this forcers you to support ideas that are deeply, deeply stupid, such as it being morally wrong to be in love with someone of the same sex.

Yes, demonstrably logically false. In fact logic (including mathematics) is the only arena where complete, solid proof CAN exist. If you believe that God has 2 mutually exclusive attributes, this can be proven to be impossible by simple logic - the Christian belief that both free will and predestination exist is provably false.

I'm not smarter than everyone else. being smarter than you would only put me in the top 90%.

Ooh, burn. Great argument. Flawless logic.

Or... You are wrong at a far deeper and more fundamental level than you know, and one day you will learn the truth.

I guess we'll have to wait and see which is true.

They say Formics a few times in the end. They should have left the term buggers, because it suppose to be derogatory before they fully knew who they were.

You really think we are a product of thousands of years of incest?

That is an *excellent* way of framing the question to make it sound ridiculous, Mike. Thanks.

But, to be honest, there's no other point of view, even for people who don't believe in the Bible. If humans evolved from something, then the first humans could only reproduce with each other. It's not like there were two separate groups of humans with different genes who evolved independent of each other but could still mate, right? So no matter which theory of origin you pick, the first humans, by necessity, committed incest. If you think otherwise, you are not being too smart.

The question is, was incest as bad as it is today? I posit that it wasn't - that the original humans could interbreed with little-to-no DNA damage (or mutations) because the line was "pure." It's only after hundreds of generations that incest became problematic for us.

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