Gavin Hood’s Ender’s Game is a film that works against all odds. The film, a big screen adaptation of an ‘80s young adult science fiction novel, had a lot stacked against it. The beloved book (which I haven’t read) has been in development in Hollywood for over twenty years, but a movie continued to elude filmmakers. However, Hood was the man to carry it over the finish line, delivering a well executed film with great effects and strong performances.
Set in the future when Earth is still reeling from an attack from an alien force called Formics, Ender’s Game follows ‘Ender’ Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a young teenager sent to a military academy to be trained as military leader. Ender is an outcast with a strong aptitude for military tactics and Colonial Graff (Harrison Ford) believes that he may be able to defeat the alien force once and for all. Along the way Ender befriends Petra (Hailee Steinfeld), who teaches him how to fit into his new world, which in turn helps train him to become the great leader that everyone hopes he will be.
Hood’s film has to balance a lot of elements, as Ender’s Game is part teen drama, science fiction action film and political commentary. It manages to be successful in all of these areas without feeling like the others are being ignored. From what I know, Orson Scott Card’s novel follows Ender over a couple of years, from child to teenager. However, Hood makes the right choice by ditching the possibility of going too ‘cute’. Butterfield is able to make the character of Ender interesting, showing a growth in character that feels real.
Harrison Ford’s gruff Graff is also layered. Recently, Ford has been accused of ‘phoning-in’ performances (something I don’t agree with) but his character here has the right amount of empathy as Ender’s father figure mixed with tetchy drill military man. A tattooed Ben Kingsley also makes an appearance, delivering a quirky character performance that adds a bit of depth to the plot developments in the third act.
Ender’s Game feels like one of those ‘80s films that you loved as a kid, but which still holds up today. There’s enough here to keep teenagers entertained and a lot to keep the adults thinking too.
Ender’s Game comes with a pair of commentaries, one from writer/director Gavin Hood and another with producers Roberto Orci and Gigi Pritzker. Both are good in their overview of the film’s production and the difficulties of adapting a beloved book.
The disc also features over ten minutes of deleted and extended scenes (with optional Hood commentary). They’re interesting and they add insight to the film but you can see why they were cut. An interesting bunch of extras.