November 1, 2013 -- This is a big-budget science fiction film based on the novel of the same name by Orson Scott Card. It is unusual for this genre in that it is almost entirely a military training film about strategic games. What little humanity there is in it is overshadowed an emphasis on strategy, both military and psychological. In this respect it is a lot like a military computer game.
The overall plot of the film reminded me a bit of “Starship Troopers,” without the wacky comedic overtones. Unlike “Starship Troopers,” this film is deadly serious, and it has capable actors, including Ben Kingsley, Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Viola Davis, Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin.
Butterfield (“Hugo”) plays Ender Wiggin, who is the Harry Potter of this story (he's the chosen one). He is a master of military strategy, and has been chosen (after winning a lot of strategic military games) to command the earth's forces against an insect-like race of beings called the Formics, who invaded earth years earlier. The fear is the bugs are planning another attack. The earth's forces are stationed near the Formic home world to stop them.
The bulk of the story has to do with Ender's endless battles against his fellow cadets, his friendships with some, and his fears of becoming too much like his brother, Peter, who washed out of the training for being too aggressive. Ender becomes friends with fellow cadet Petra Arkanian (Hailee Steinfeld of “True Grit”). Viola Davis plays a psychologist, Major Gwen Anderson. Harrison Ford plays the training commander, Abigail Breslin plays Ender's sister and Ben Kingsley plays Ender's personal trainer.
Unfortunately, just before I saw this movie I talked to someone who had read the book and he inadvertently spoiled one of the two surprises at the end of the film, so I'm not sure I would have guessed it or not without the spoiler. The other surprise at the end was not something I saw coming.
The story is clever enough, but not really satisfying because there is too much artificiality, in the way a game is artificial, and not enough reality or humanity in the story. It never really seems as though there is as much at stake as there should be. This is not the fault of the actors, who do a solid job, and the visual effects are as expected for a big budget movie like this. The limiting factor here is a thin screenplay. This film rates a C+.
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