Review: Ender’s Game

Posted: January 30, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Science Fiction
Tags: , ,

 

Ender poster(Ender’s Game, 2013, directed by Gavin Hood, starring Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon, author of Free Radicals

Let’s just look at the movie as a movie–let’s not compare it to Orson Scott Card‘s 1985 novel of the same name.

The film opens with a quote to the effect that to understand one’s enemy is to love him. That line sounds very much like it was written by someone who has taken one too many acting classes, and actually believes the dictum that in order to play a character you have to love the character. Wrong.

Marlon Brando gave one of the all-time great performances as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Did he love Kowalski? Hardly. Brando despised him, and said as much. He said that all that’s necessary to playing a character is to understand the character, which is not the same as loving the character. Brando’s performance is powerful evidence that he was right.

Going beyond the opening quote, Ender’s Game‘s stated premise is that to combat a race of aggressive ant-like beings, the Formics (as in formic acid), it’s necessary to turn over tactical control of Earth’s combat forces to the most talented of Earth’s children, who have been immersed in video games since birth. That premise was serviceable (barely) three decades ago when Card wrote his novel. Today, after thirty year’s of Moore’s Law increase in computer processing power–with computers expected to surpass the processing power of the human brain within the next two to three decades–it’s not. It’s dated and outright embarrassing.

Other, worse, absurdities abound. Ants the size of elephants? Physiologically impossible. (There are reasons why elephants have massive legs and insects never exceed a few inches in size.) Prolonged interstellar war? No. Accelerate even a very small asteroid to just one percent the speed of light, slam it into a planet, and it’s Game Over. And … But why go on?

Even ignoring its absurdities, Ender’s Game is still a lousy movie. The dialogue is serviceable. The acting is serviceable. The characters cardboard. And the pacing is terrible. The first hour of Ender’s Game consists of little more than standard boot-camp scenes (featuring a blustering d.i.), unusual only in that the “soldiers” are barely pubescent, interspersed with what for all intents and purposes are zero-g paintball sequences. The first hour or so is both slow and boring (the two aren’t synonymous–see Tarkovsky’s Solaris), and then the film proceeds at breakneck speed.

Another problem involves the training regimen depicted in the film’s first hour. It’s ultracompetitive, and those in charge of it tacitly encourage bullying behavior–it’s a regimen designed to produce “leaders” who in all but name are sociopaths. Yet very few of the kids act like sociopaths, including Ender, who shows surprising concern after accidentally injuring a bully who’s been tormenting him. Very few people would show such concern–let alone a young teenager conditioned to be  sociopathic.

One final aspect of the film that adds much to its dreariness is its muted, low-saturation color palette, especially in the first hour. The apparent purpose of this is to provide contrast with the flashy space-battle sequences toward the end of the film–which is evidence that the director knew that the sequences themselves weren’t enough of a payoff.

Ender’s Game is even worse than Oblivion, which in a few spots is so bad it’s good. Ender’s Game is simply bad.

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia.

Free Radicals front cover

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