Ender’s Game **1/2 (out of five)
Ender’s Game, based on the Nebula and Hugo Award-winning 1985 science fiction novel – critically acclaimed in some circles and derided as facist in others – by Orson Scott Card, is a very, very strange movie indeed. A big-budget extravaganza that often looks Dr. Who-cheap, it is at times bafflingly obtuse. I kept wondering if the source material was linked to some cult or out-there philosophy such as was the case with Battlefield Earth and Scientology, as the film seems to rest on a big rock of particular concepts, though what those concepts are I am not entirely sure. Full of mixed messages and strange symbolism, its weirdness is also its (limited) charm.
The source novel was not, I believe, “young adult” fiction, but the movie cannot make up its mind for whom it is intended, and I personally cannot fathom the audience. Far too kiddy for an adult audience, yet way too sombre, slow and portentous for the littlies, the film seems to be for nobody, and indeed I think its poor showing at box offices worldwide reflects this.
In the future, very young commanders-to-be are instructed in the ways of war at a boot camp run by gruff Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and his sidekick Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), both of whom obviously desired a fat paycheck with very little work involved. These little boffins are trained in the Art of War through a series of sport-like zero gravity games that frankly are slower and seem far easier than any round of lasertag or paintball. Bizarrely unexciting, yet excitingly bizarre, these “war games” are made more weird by their depiction of zero gravity which, in the face of Gravity, looks like it was rendered on a Commodore 64.
I think that the film could have been really interesting if it had been told from the adults’ point of view; the debate over training kids for war is given one perfunctory scene when it should have been the spine of the movie. Instead it’s all about the kids, and Asa Butterfield, as Ender, is miscast, neither up to the task of carrying the film nor believable as a tough kid. When he gets into a shower fight it’s ludicrous to the point of derisible. He was a lot better in Hugo, where his girlish looks were a strength.
Watching little kids dress up and play Star Trek may be fun for grandparents in a living room at Christmas. On the big screen it’s weird. Trippy, confusing, strangely slow and contained, the film feels as though someone had made it with their own money to broadcast their own beliefs. It certainly exists in its own bonkers world, and, as such, is, at least, an odd original.