November begins with the film adaption of Orson Scott Card's science-fiction novel "Ender's Game." Long considered to be "unfilmable" by Card himself, its debut in theaters is a welcome treat for fans of the hugely popular book.
While I too read the book more than a decade ago, the details have completely escaped me, so I went into the movie as a blank slate.
I cannot review the film without first mentioning the controversy surrounding Card's highly anti-gay views. It's confirmed that Card will not receive a dime from the box office, so if that doesn't bother you, feel free to see the movie guilt-free. If by principle you still decide to pass on this flick, you're not missing much.
The film follows Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a highly intelligent boy who is recruited by Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) into the International Military. Ender quickly becomes a master of war games and battle tactics, leading to his promotion to the role of Mazer. He is then entrusted with the survival of the humanity against a large-scale attack from a familiar alien race.
Since the film features relatively unknown child actors, it's important to have a few well-known actors for balance. That's the reason for the legendary Harrison Ford, especially given his penchant for sci-fi films. Right behind him is Ben Kingsley ("Hugo"), who shows up later in the film, but makes his presence known. Lastly, the young actress Hailee Steinfeld ("True Grit") pulls off her role very well despite being a newcomer to the sci-fi genre. Their performances carry the film for an ensemble of child actors who, sometimes humorously, are shown to still be learning their way around the motion picture camera. That includes Asa Butterfield himself, who inadvertently elicits some laughs with his acting. It detracts from the film in key moments where it should not, and it becomes difficult to empathize with him.
There's no shortage of fantastic visual effects in the film. The film does not disappoint to deliver what I call an "eye candy" movie, and I greatly enjoyed that. They may not have reached the bar set this year by "Gravity" and "Star Trek Into Darkness" but I give the film its due credit.
Unfortunately, the editing style removes any contribution the visual effects have to telling the story. Even during very personal scenes, the film cuts between camera angles unnecessarily quickly, and these constant shifts in perspective are both disorienting and jarring. Even more powerful scenes could have been created with extended takes and creative panning and tilting of the camera (something that "Gravity" executed to perfection). While a fast editing pace certainly works for the action sequences, it becomes a problem when that editing style bleeds over into slower, more emotional scenes. The quick cutting never permits us to look at one object or piece of scenery for too long, no matter how visually stunning it may be.
The film does have a nice resolution, and it leaves room to extrapolate beyond the final cut to black, which is good. While the film debates war, guilt, and more, that conversation is lost in a haphazard mix of the good and the bad, where the bad noticeably outweighs the good. If you're looking for a deeper and more thorough dialogue of the story and these themes, definitely read the book instead. Again, if you're against Card's views but are interested in the story, check out the book from a library.
From what I understand, "Ender's Game" is actually the first in a line of books following Ender's journey. My mixed feelings tell me we won't be seeing those novels adapted to film anytime soon.