Winner of both the Nebula and Hugo awards for best novel, 'Ender's Game' is a fantastic story, despite the misgivings many now share about its author, Orson Scott Card (whose personal views have not biased either my review of this movie nor the source material). However, a film version was always seen as unlikely, both because of the effects required and the fact that a big chunk of the story deals with what is going on inside Ender's mind (his thoughts, worries, anger etc.). For many years, fans were told a film version was happening, only for the project to get stuck in 'development hell', but finally – last year – a movie version of 'Ender's Game' made it to the big screen, and it's wonderful.
For those not familiar with the basic storyline, 'Ender's Game' is set in the future, where a group of aliens known as the Formics (they're nicknamed 'buggers' in the original novel, but that phrase isn't used here – most likely due to the slang meaning it has in the UK) have invaded Earth once and have been defeated. However, the fear is that they'll attack again soon, so a Battle School has been developed to train young children (whom the military believes are quickly adaptable at a younger age) to fight the upcoming war. Andrew 'Ender' Wiggin is chosen as one of those children, as he seems to have the perfect combination of compassion, leadership skills, and – when necessary – ruthlessness.
While a big chunk of storyline had to be dropped for the theatrical version, and other plot points condensed, director Gavin Hood's 'Ender's Game' remains faithful to the essence of the original novel, and keeps the biggest 'surprise' nicely under wraps until the final bits of the movie (as did the book). By selecting Asa Butterfield (Hugo) for the lead role, the film has an actor capable of visually expressing many of Ender's emotions without having to verbalize them. The rest of the cast is also fantastic, not the least of which is Harrison Ford, giving his second great performance of 2013 (the first being in 42) as Col. Graff, the leader of Battle School.
Although the majority of the cast showcases young teenagers (and Summit Entertainment – perhaps mistakenly – tried to market this as another one of their movies for teens and young adults), the movie itself never softens its themes to appeal to a broader audience. Ender is capable of both great love and great hate, and that doesn't change in the adaptation to the screen. Likewise, a character like Col. Graff, who could so easily be portrayed as a villain, is played with great feeling by Harrison Ford. Graff may not always be making the right choices, but there's not a moment in the movie where we don't sympathize with him the same way we sympathize with Ender.
If parts of 'Ender's Game' seem familiar or particularly formulaic, keep in mind other authors/movies have had over 35 years (while the full novel dates back to 1985, 'Ender's Game' was actually a short story that was published in 1977) to 'borrow' some of the ideas from Card's original novel. So if the idea of recruiting children for Battle School reminds you of The Hunger Games or even The Last Starfighter, don't blame the movie for sticking with the source material.
In an industry that brings us so many 'stupid' sci-fi movies (the latest Star Trek endeavor immediately pops to mind), it's so refreshing to get a movie like 'Ender's Game', which will leave you pondering the actions and consequences of the characters long after you've left the theater (or, in this case, the comfort of your living room). It's one of those rarities in Hollywood – a big budget movie that doesn't rely on its special effects to entertain, but rather on the strength of its storytelling.
Finally, on a side note, many viewers are going to finish watching 'Ender's Game' with a desire to find out what happens next. Since 'Ender's Game' didn't set the box office on fire and since the sequel to the novel actually continues Ender's story with him as an adult, another movie was probably never in the cards (pardon the obvious pun). However, I highly recommend picking up the novel 'Speaker for the Dead', which continues Ender's tale. It's every bit as powerful and moving as the original novel, and it will get you away from the TV for a few hours!
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Ender's Game' rockets its way onto home video in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack that houses the DVD, Blu-ray, and insert with a code for a UltraViolet and iTunes copy of the movie in an eco-friendly keepcase. A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase's slick slides overtop. Both the Blu-ray and the DVD are front-loaded with trailers for 'Divergent', The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Source Code. The Blu-ray has a little fun with the FBI warning and Lionsgate logo, making the International Fleet logo part of each. The Blu-ray's menu also makes use of battle room footage from the movie, with menu selections running along the bottom of the screen. The DVD is less creative, with standard FBI and logo footage, and a menu that just shows a montage of scenes from the movie.
Note: In addition to the combo release described in this review, there was also a Target-exclusive steelbook of Ender's Game released. I don't believe this edition is available online, but it may still be available at your local brick and mortar Target. The discs inside the steelbook are exactly the same as what is contained in the set reviewed here.
'Ender's Game' was shot digitally on Epic Red cameras, and the quality of the Blu-ray transfer lives up to what one would hope for. There are a lot of colors used in the movie, and I'm happy to report that they all look great in HD, without ever becoming over-saturated. Black levels are also very strong, which is good news since many of the scenes (particularly those later in the movie) take place in rather dark locales/sets.
Fleshtones are properly rendered throughout, but not always consistent in that they often reflect the locale that the characters are in during a scene. For example, on Earth they have a natural hue, but at battle school – where most of the surroundings are blue and grayish, they give off a look more in line with the surroundings. This isn't a problem with the transfer though, but rather a reflection of how the movie was shot and the filmmakers' intent.
I detected no instances of aliasing, banding, noise, or other frequently seen glitches in the transfer. Overall, this is a top-notch picture that fans of the movie should be quite pleased with.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track is just a joy to listen to, and one I'm going to rank as reference quality. The immersiveness of the track is incredible, with almost every speaker in one's set-up constantly active providing something – be it the rumbling of one's subwoofer as a rocket zooms into space, or the rears picking up distinct background noises of a particular scene. There's a lot of fun with directionality as well, as a laser shot in Battle School will zip from the back to the front, or vice versa. Through all this, dialogue is crisp, clear, and properly rendered, and balance overall is excellent.
In addition to the lossless 7.1 track, the Blu-ray also contains a 2.0 track 'optimized for late-night viewing', an English Descriptive Audio track, and a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, and Spanish.
Based on one of the best-written science fiction novels of all time, 'Ender's Game' is an intelligent movie that doesn’t dumb-down its themes of manipulation, isolation, and xenophobia (among others) for the big screen. It also doesn't pander to the audience by making any one character 'all good' or 'all bad'. Although it didn't get the love it deserved at the box office, 'Ender's Game' is almost certainly destined to become a cult classic as more and more people find their way to the movie. Highly recommended.