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Reviewing a film that is based on a novel is often a difficult task because, if the reviewer has not read that novel, it can be difficult to differentiate whether any of the film’s problems were present in the source material. I have not read the 1985 novel by Orson Scott Card that the film adaptation of Ender’s Game is based on, but based on my experience from watching the movie, it seems like there is potential for a solid reading experience. Unfortunately, what might be good in a novel is not necessarily good in a feature film. Despite having a mildly interesting premise and the potential for intriguing storylines in the film’s possible sequels, this segment in the Ender’s Game franchise feels so drawn out and inconsequential that anyone who is unfamiliar with the source material will be left wondering what the fuss is all about.

The year is 2086 and Earth is attacked by an unknown alien species who hope to colonize our planet. Jump several years into the future and the military has resorted to training children to defend against another attack (the film doesn’t spend much time justifying the reasons for using children, so just go with it). We are introduced to Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) a young trainee who has caught the attention of Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford). Graff sends Ender into space to take part in a battle school training program that will prepare Ender for any future alien attacks.

I feel as if I should stop the plot summary here because the majority of the film takes place in this battle school. And when I say a majority, I mean a very large majority. Training which should have lasted no more than a half hour takes up more than fifty percent of the film’s total runtime. Any action sequences that occur during this segment of the film take place in a zero gravity training room. Think of it as laser tag of the future. Sure it’s interesting to watch for a few minutes, but with four full length scenes that take place in this training area, it begins to feel very dull. Not only is it dull, but it has little bearing on the rest of the story.

Any of the action sequences that occur outside of these training sequences also ring flat. The film never allows the viewer to develop any kind of emotional connection to the characters, so it never feels like anything is at stake. Also, there is a twist that occurs during the climactic battle scene that most viewers, whether they have read the novel or not, will see coming. Sure, the film has some truly impressive visual effects (particularly in a late scene featuring an alien creature) but these cannot carry the entire film.

Asa Butterfield is serviceable as Ender, but he is unable to develop him into a fully formed character. Surely some of this problem lies in the script, but it does seem as if Butterfield could have done a better job, even with the weak material that he was given. The only performances in the film that are worth mentioning are Harrison Ford as the gruff commander Graff and Ben Kingsley as the mysterious Mazer Rackham.

Despite having never read the source material, Ender’s Game feels like a very weak book-to-film adaptation. The action scenes are never particularly thrilling and the film never seems to have anything thematically significant to say. It’s competently directed by Gavin Hood, but a sloppy script, poor pacing and uninspired performances make Ender’s Game feel like a ho-hum sci-fi flick. In this game, there are no winners.

Ender’s Game receives 1.5/4

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