Saturday, November 2, 2013

Ender's Game [Movie Review]

 Tonight I went to the theater to see a movie that was twenty some years in the making. I saw the movie adaptation of the 1985 novel, Ender's Game.

Harrison is finally starting to show his age...
I went to see Ender's Game and I saw Ender's Game. That might seem a strange distinction, but typically when I go see a film adaptation of a novel, I expect to see something that is an adaptation. This was closer than that. This was like watching the novel as a film. Yes, there are parts omitted and some slight changes (such as the much required age upping of the candidates), but those are not the core of what Ender's Game is.

Anyways... lets cover a quick synopsis. 

My god... it's full of stars.
In the far future, the year 2086, humanity is attacked by an alien species. The aliens, the Formians (Buggers in the original novel, but well... that would not really fly nowadays.) Millions die, earth's forces are outclassed. Humanity is losing until one man, Mazer Rackham, single handedly takes out a Formian capitol ship by slamming his fighter into its underbelly. This single act halts the entire invasion and saves humanity.

Ok. Now I wanna play zero-G laser-paintball too...
Fifty years later, a young boy named Andrew 'Ender' Wiggan (Asa Butterfield), is part of a intensive training program searching for earth's next hero. Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), who is in charge of the program, has observed Ender's outstanding potential. So Graff sets up a test for Ender - he washes him out.

Battle Sphere earth rise.
Now a wash-out, the students whom Ender has embarrassed gang up on him. With quick thinking, Ender goads the lead aggressor into a one on one fight. During the fight Ender knocks his aggressor down and kicks him hard. He has won the fight, but he keeps kicking the downed boy.When asked later why he kept kicking the boy, Ender responds with one of the core lines: "Knocking him down won the first fight. I wanted to win all the next ones, too."

Ender is promoted to Battle School.

Audi, sci-fi car makers. Again.

And that is where I'll end the synopsis.  

Ben Kingsley looks very stern.
This movie was actually a little bit less fun to watch than Escape Plan, but this is a better movie. I know that seems odd, but there is a reason. Nothing in Ender's Game surprised me. I knew this movie before seeing it.I had no real expectations for Escape Plan so when it did awesome things, those were extra cool. When Ender's Game did awesome things, they were expected, and required.

One of the more impressive things about Ender's Game was how well it was paced. This movie had an amazing pace, important events occurred at exactly the right time. I never felt a lull or pause that went too long, and the breathers between action were just right.  

Now that is not to say there were not faults in Ender's Game, there were. The more noticeable ones were a pair of minor qualms, and one major qualm. 

It's like Galaga or R-Type on the silver screen.
He's conducting a Space Opera. Episode VII anyone?
The two minor issues are simple. The first is we have no sense of distance in the movie. How far through space has humanity traveled, how fast can they go? We never know so the scale of the movie just throws me a little. I suppose not knowing is better than movies that totally screw up on scale. The other comes from a short scene where a rocket-shuttle lands engines down (ie: reverse take off) instead of gliding in. This is just patently stupid to see... the craft is actually mildly aerodynamic (not great, but passable, kinda fish-like) so there is not need to land like it did. It' didn't even look cool... it looked unnatural.

But the larger issue is Asa Butterfield's portrayal of Ender Wiggin. He starts off great. His portrayal of a third child, one bullied by an older violent brother and doted on by an older caring sister. He plays socially awkward Ender very well. However as Ender grows through the story, Asa's performance does not grow as much. Ender's character suffers a lot of change, but it just does not always come through. It's not a bad performance, it's just not really a good one either. It misses the mark, but just slightly. Of course in the book, you are seeing everything from Ender's perspective and that is just not something that can be done in a film. So, the performance is just too nuanced to fully communicate across the screen.

Though honestly the one thing that really stands out is how many social / moral issues the movie touches upon but does nothing with. There are references to many many issues not limited to but including: over-population, the morality of using children in war, the morality of lying for a greater good or to protect the innocent, the dangers of communication failure, how far is going too far, and the big kicker - the fallacy that the ends justify the means.    

So many issues, so little time (only 114 minutes), nothing is really covered too much. The biggest ones are over-population and the ends justify the means fallacy. Both the humans and the Formians are suffering from over-population, and this is what has spurred the inter-species war. Since the whole 'ends justify the means' fallacy (also known as the Pious Fraud fallacy) is a running theme, I'm going to lay off discussing it in depth. This one is covered pretty well in the movie.

Now remember I said that the movie was less fun than Escape Plan, but it was also overall a better movie than Escape Plan. So here is my rating:
3.5 Stars
Now with all that said there is some controversy surrounding this movie, but that is not what this blog is for. If you want to figure out what is going on, I'm just going to give you a link to the controversy section in the wiki on the movie.

To say the least, I actually think that I agree with producer Roberto Orci who says (in that link above), "It didn't occur to me to do background checks on anybody." According to Entertainment Weekly R. Orci said that "the movie should be judged on its message, not the personal beliefs of the original author," who had minimal involvement in the film.

The movie is not O.S.C., O.S.C. is not the movie. Do not get sucked into a False Equivalence Fallacy.

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