Ender's GameThursday 24 Oct 2013
Director: Gavin Hood
Starring: Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis
Duration: 114 minutes
Harry Potter in space anyone? Harrison Ford hams it up as a Colonel overseeing a bunch of tiresome academy brats in this dull sci-fi which poses moral questions about war but ends up as dormant as a white dwarf star.
Harrison Ford has been busy deflecting criticism of Orson Scott Card, the author of the kids’ sci-fi novel on which this deadly serious sci-fi flick is based. Scott Card is a campaigner against same sex marriage and he recently penned a 3,000 word essay in which he compared Barack Obama to Hitler.
He’s entitled to his opinions and, of course, sci-fi writers should be able to accomplish great feats of imagination but Scott Card's strident views are the least of this movie’s worries.
Ender's Game is a visually impressive spectacle which may be faithful to the original book but as a gripping story with interesting characters, it is a soul-sucking black hole onto itself. Harry Potter in space was clearly the aim for director Gavin Hood and while Scott Card’s cult novel was published a good two decades before the boy wizard made his debut, this is just as derivative and shamefully clichéd.
Ok it’s a kids’ movie so we could never have hoped for anything like the hugely enjoyable pulp schlock of Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers but any 12-year-old sci-fi geek would feel patronised by the humourless, clunky script and the deeply uninteresting child performers.
Ender's Game tells the story of school-age cadet Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield) who arrives in starfleet training school, aiming to lead humanity's fight against an alien race of giant ants, nicknamed Buggers. Up in boot camp, our starship juniors are put through their paces by a tough-as-Andrex drill sergeant and there's the usual academy rites of passage.
Ford as Colonel Graff oversees the intake and he does play the gung-ho role with gusto as he grumbles gnomic rubbish like “He is The One.” about Ender. He also prattles on about how he raised yearlings in much the same way my hero Captain Jean Luc Picard raised grapes in a lovely little vineyard back on terra firma.
Hood’s movie would have been far more believable, not to mention entertaining, if our space cadets were futuristic Midwich Cuckoos or Mentats with greater divining powers than weary war sick adults. As it is, plucky tyro Ender is no Paul Atreides. Hell, he’s no Luke Skywalker either - he is in fact Shia LeBeouf 15 years ago, a weedy rookie who rises fast through the ranks to become The One.
And like LeBeouf, Butterfield has little charisma or actual screen presence. A bit hard on the kid perhaps but Ender’s Game needed an intriguing lead character, not a newbie who comes across as listless among the adult machinations and alien swarms.
The requisite Obi-Wan Kenobi role is taken by Ben Kingsley who brings some mystery and gravitas to proceedings. Moral questions are asked about the price of victory and there are a few scenes that may entertain gamers but the lasting impression is that this wannabe franchise was done before and better in a galaxy far, far away and a long, long time ago.
Will Ender, the boy leader of men, become a ruthless planet killer? Will he escape Graff'’s amoral militaristic blood lust? Will our poor children have to sit through any more of this mock-profound rubbish? Thankfully, in space no one can hear you snore.