Monday, November 04, 2013

ENDER’S Big Screen Video GAME

Now playing at a multiplex near you:

ENDER’S GAME (Dir. Gavin Hood, 2013)

Two things I’m not going to do: compare this film to Orson Scott Card’s original 1985 novel, and recount the controversy over the author’s outspoken hatred of homosexuals. This is because I haven’t read the book, and the views of Card, who hails from my home state North Carolina, are well documented on these internets, as are the calls within the LGBT community to boycott the movie.

As its #1 at the box office (take that, boycott!), audiences have found what I found out when attending an advance screening last week - Gavin Hood’s ENDER’S GAME is, simply put, a rock solid sci-fi flick.

It’s also one of the most successful attempts to make a big screen video game vividly come alive, something that Hollywood has been trying to do since the early ‘80s in movies like TRON and THE LAST STARFIGHTER. Here, the tried and true premise of kids’ gaming skills being put to the test in actual intergalactic combat fully envelops the viewer like never before, largely thanks to its lavish IMAX scope.

Set in the year 2086, in which Earth has been attacked by an alien race called the “Formics” (they were called “Buggers” in the book, but that could be seen as an anti-gay slur), and the International Fleet is training a bunch of young cadets via intense simulations and drills to be able to fight off the next invasion. The star pupil, Ender Wiggin (the brilliant Asa Butterfield from HUGO), is recruited by Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis, always making the most out of supporting roles) to attend Battle School, located on an elaborate space station orbiting the earth.

War game after war game goes by, with Butterfield sharpening his skills under Ford’s tutelage. Man, there is a lot of over serious strategizing, and military minded mumbo jumbo, but Hood, who adapted Card’s novel for the film’s screenplay, keeps it all moving with an entertaining precision aided by sparkling visuals.

Hailee Steinfeld (TRUE GRIT) puts in a poignant performance as one of Butterfield’s classmates who becomes his best friend and ally, while Moisés Arias (KINGS OF SUMMER) affectively flares his nostrils as a pint sized adversary along the way to the inevitably climatic battle simulation, which houses the film’s big thematic fake-out.

In what will likely become his fourth major franchise, Ford tops his almost unrecognizable role in Brian Helgeland’s Jackie Robinson biopic 42 earlier this year, by showing he can give a damn again as the gruff Graff. Ford’s iconic presence is one that Butterfield’s Ender and audiences trust, bringing a stately gravitas to his overseer position, and it’s enjoyable to see him act alongside Sir Ben Kingsley in a brief bit as half-Maori war legend Mazer Rackham sporting a pretty prominent face tattoo.

Despite growing up on STAR WARS and Star Trek, I don’t consider myself a sci-fi guy, and I’m certainly not a gamer, but ENDER’S GAME kept me interested with its neat narrative and absorbing sense of purpose. Anyone who’s felt the competition in the air of a locker room can attest to the tone that this film nails. It also deftly captures the coming-of-age realization of how manipulative the world of adulthood can be. 

Now, these are pretty fancy themes indeed to be embedded inside a film that could just function as eye candy. Hood’s adaptation of Card’s creation succeeds in being a big screen video game with a brain.

More later...

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