If you’re looking for a film that deserves a second chance, Ender’s Game will certainly fit the bill. It came and went without much fanfare last fall, another adaptation of a beloved teen novel that failed to catch fire the way the producers clearly hoped it would. It was further burdened by homophobic comments made by the novel’s author Orson Scott Card, which the filmmakers were quick to disavow to no avail. Ender’s Game came and went with nary a hiccup, which sadly overshadowed the fact that – in and of itself – it’s actually rather terrific. Hit the jump for my full Ender’s Game Blu-ray review.
It thrives in part because it has a lot to say about being different, and the ways in which the world tests and bullies outsiders who dare to be themselves. Director Gavin Hood has shown flashes of such insight in his previous work. Here he finds a potent subject in Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), boy genius and possible savior of the human race. At some point in the future, alien invaders arrive on Earth, prompting a desperate fight for survival that continues even after the enemy retreats. Under the tutelage of the tough-as-nails Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford, better than he’s been in years), Ender begins to realize his extraordinary potential, a potential that could end the war once and for all. But even as he discovers his inner strength, he faces constant challenges from without, both with overbearing classmates and the adults who view him as a resource to be exploited.
His real foes stay hidden for most of the movie, building up a few wrinkles that helped make the book a classic. It’s doubly impressive because the vast majority of the film consists of nothing more than training sessions. Ender finds himself in an orbital boot camp where he learns the tactical and strategic skills needed to survive on the front lines. In other hands, the material might have been deadly dull (witness this spring’s moribund Divergent), but Hood keeps us riveted by never straying from his protagonist. We sense Ender’s frustrating search for belonging, his fears of failure and the truly spooky way in which he evaluates and dispatches his foes. Technically, he’s just practicing, but the emotional impact of his trials and travails feel like anything but a mulligan.
Aided by a sterling cast that includes the likes of Ben Kingsley and Viola Davis (as well as Hailee Steinfeld, reminding us once again to keep our eye on her), and with a budget that fully delivers on the epic premise, Ender’s Game turns into the rare sci-fi action film with something to say. If it stumbles at all, it comes mostly in the realm of dialogue, which often gets tangled up in exposition and clearly tries to set up a franchise that probably won’t see the light of day. But Ford delivers the it with the polish of a true pro, and the rest of Ender’s Game shines as brightly as its young hero. Chances are you gave it a pass when it first hit theaters. The Blu-ray is another opportunity to give it a look; you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.
As befits a box office disappointment, the disc arrives with minimal excess. The sound and picture look great, but the extra features are a bit routine: two audio commentaries, one full-length behind-the-scenes doc, and a collection of cut scenes and promo materials. None of them are unwelcome, but I wouldn’t expect a special edition anytime soon. What you see is probably all you’re going to get here.