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Ender’s Game (Blu-ray Review)

enders game whysoblu cover-001It was unfortunate to not see this film take off big, theatrically.  I was quite impressed by what I saw in theaters, given my adoration for the book, but the film could not quite connect with the masses in the same way that something like The Hunger Games has proven to do.  Based on the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novel by Orson Scott Card, which is one of my favorites, I walked away feeling really positive about the film, but seeing a sequel does not seem like something that’s in the cards.  It matters little though, as the film, even with its minor flaws, was one that I found very satisfying, and I now have a solid Blu-ray to go with it.

Film:

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The story takes place in a future where Earth has fought against alien invaders and barely won.  Since then, in preparation for the next invasion, the International Fleet now trains young children in an effort to find a new, gifted leader.  This possibility becomes a reality in the form of Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (Asa Butterfield).  Ender is a strategically brilliant boy, who is selected by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) to join Battle School, located on a space station orbiting Earth, and train in war games.  The film’s focus is set on Ender learning how to lead and learning how to deal with the toll these kinds of activities can have on a young mind.

Ender’s Game features a strong cast.  Along with Butterfield, the younger talent includes Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) as Petra, a female cadet with talent that closely rivals Ender’s; and Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) as Valentine, Ender’s sister and one of the few people that is truly empathetic towards him.  The adult cast includes Viola Davis, as a Major with concern for the weight of stress, among other things, on Ender; and Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham, a legendary war hero.

A main shortcoming in this film was always going to regard the characterization of important figures in this story.  This most notably stems from the role that Ender’s brother and sister play.  Suffice it to say that Ender’s Game is very much focused on Ender and stays clear of what is going on with earth, during Ender’s time at Battle School.  I can understand that decision and would be curious to know what the sequel plans would be, given the nature of the other books in this series.  That said, I am not one to necessarily judge a film as a part of a potential future franchise, as it should stand on its own.  In this regard, a key flaw of the film revolves around what I can only imagine is the jettison of around 20 minutes or so of footage that strengthens some of these supporting characters.  Even if that is not the case, while a long film may have made the pacing suffer, it does feel like the film’s story has been slimmed down, sacrificing some key character points in the process.

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Moving past this, I was very surprised at how taken I was with both the spectacle of the film and the impact that certain elements of it had.  Seeing the visual of a zero-gravity training ground was pretty wonderful to behold and there was this great feeling of memories from the book that came flooding back to me, while I watched these sequences, among others.  The visuals, in general, are all quite good.  The accompanying sound design is a real highlight as well, almost making me not mind the rather generic score by Steve Jablonsky.  The film does enough to find a way to visually express an authentic level of reality, with regards to fictional space stations at a time where alien invasions have occurred, while also portraying a sense of uniqueness that separates this film from others.  Given my satisfaction with the portrayal of this world on a visual level, I was happy to take in the key story elements that this story needed to get across.  I only wish some of the deeper themes could have surfaced a bit stronger, but I can also see the difficulty of getting that across in a film that is already quite the challenge to put to screen.

Speaking as a fan of the book is one thing, but I do feel this is a film that largely works because it communicates its story well enough to not feel like nothing but fan service has been done.  Ender’s Game is very much a visual journey, as we watch Ender win various war games and battle scenarios based on a depiction of cunning and seeing him bark out orders to other cadets, so it certainly does not stand as a film that is just as effective in dialogue as it is in spectacle, but I also never found myself unclear about what was going on onscreen.  Director Gavin Hood, who also adapted the screenplay, has done a good job finding a way to balance the main drive of this film and show us a boy who takes his already gifted self and becomes something greater, which may or may not have adverse effects.

It also really comes down to the sense of energy and discovery that can be found in the film.  I can admit that I was slightly thrown at the beginning of the film, based on some stilted dialogue delivery, but that quickly went away as the film went on and expanded its scope.  While fitting for general audiences, Ender’s Game is a very satisfying kid’s adventure story that not only capitalizes on placing a lot the action around pre-teens/teenagers participating in these non-lethal war games, but does so without drawing much attention to the fact that it’s known as the International Fleet for a reason.  I was so happy to see a wide variety of kids in this movie and barely even making mention of that fact.  It helped that they all pretty much acted like kids, with one exception that is more or less a requirement of the story.

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As far as the acting goes, young Asa Butterfield makes a fine Ender.  There is a serious nature about him, but the film also allows for a certain level of fun to derive from his actions and dialogue, which keeps the film from feeling cold.  Given that a stern regard for following orders comes with the territory at boot camp-like training grounds, I do think the film finds the right way to balance the dramatic tone with the fun, adventurous aspect, and Butterfield’s performance works in that regard.  It helps that his chemistry with the other kids is fun to watch.  Steinfeld is a key role in this film as Petra and the relationship between her and Ender is a nice development, as are the ones with the other kids who become his key lieutenants.  Putting aside some of the rushed elements, keeping Ender likable and his relationships strong worked for this film.

Regarding the adults, Harrison Ford feels nicely placed here.  Graff is one letter away from “gruff” for a reason, but Ford is always a fun onscreen presence anyway, so when the film actually calls for his mood to lighten, he hits just the right beats for this film to play off of.  Only one thing is required of Viola Davis, making it no surprise that her character did not exist in the original novel, but given the purpose of her character, it helps that someone as talented as Davis has been placed in this role (although she pretty much served the same purpose in the underrated Beautiful Creatures from earlier this year).  And then there is Ben Kingsley with a face tattoo, serving as an odd way to reunite him with Butterfield (they were wonderful together in Hugo).  Kidding aside, not much is required from Kingsley either, but he brings the same kind of authority that Davis does and feels rightly placed overall.

Try as I must to share my enthusiasm for Ender’s Game, without emphasizing my love for the book, I really was surprised how much I enjoyed this film.  While it is by no means perfect, I held my expectations pretty low and was very satisfied with how it turned out.  Obviously changes would have to be made to the story and certain elements would be downplayed, but there is a great visual depiction of a sci-fi adventure story, with a focus on kids in a way that makes the film more intriguing to watch.  If Starship Troopers (which I love) is more or less the adult version of this film, then Ender’s Game is a solid watch for younger audiences.  It found a way to take on the difficult-to-film novel and attacked it head on.

Video:

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Ender’s Game arrives on Blu-ray with a terrific AVC-encoded 1080p transfer that rightfully displays the great effects work featured in this film.  Ender’s Game (shot in stunning 2D) looked terrific in theaters, thanks to the great work by Digital Domain and it continues to do so at home.  Given the nature of the film, there was an extensive use of CGI and green screen elements, but that never feels apparent in terms of the context of the film.  The Blu-ray transfer does a fine job of showing off this film’s visuals, with a terrific display of textures, the details in all of the designs in this film, and a proper balance of colors, given the mixing of brighter sequences involving costumes and live sets, with the darkness of things like space and the setting of the film’s third act.  This film looks great on Blu-ray.

Audio: 

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With a lossless DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio mix, Ender’s Game has a spectacular audio track featured on its Blu-ray, which applies real weight to the film, as we hear its very aggressive soundtrack.  While the score was not something I loved, you can hear it in full force here, along with the wonderful sound effects that accompany the big battle sequences, as well as the smaller-scaled scenes focused on the actors.  Dialogue comes across clear as well, including Harrison Ford’s gruff and tumble voice work as Graff.  This is a great aspect of owning Ender’s Game on Blu-ray, as it really puts your sound system to the test.

Extras: 

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Two commentaries!  Yes, Ender’s Game’s Blu-ray features two separate and very good commentaries, along with a pretty solid Making-of features, and a handful of deleted scenes.  While an interesting, if controversial, extra could have gone into Orson Scott Card and his work as an author (though I doubt that was ever in the cards), there is enough here to satisfy fans of the film.

Features Include:

Audio Commentary with Director Gavin Hood – A great listen that goes over the challenges of making this film, Hood’s actual background in the South African military, the work done with the visual effects, his work with the actors, and more.

Audio Commentary with Producers Gigi Pritzker and Roberto Orci – Another solid listen, which devotes a bit more time to how the film compares to the book and the intention behind the changes.

Ender’s World: The Making of Ender’s Game – A just under an hour, this may not be all-encompassing, but it gives a pretty great look at many of the aspects that led to the making of this film.

Inside the Mind Game – While very brief, this is a fun look at the building of one of the key sequences of the film.

Deleted/Extended Scenes – Featuring optional commentary by Gavin Hood, there are a number of scenes here that may add a little more to the depth of the story, but are obviously taken out do to trying to get the pace of the film right.

Theatrical Trailers

DVD Copy of the Film

Digital and UltraViolet Copy of the Film

Summary: 

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I was a big fan of the film when it hit theaters and none of that has really changed.  On Blu-ray, Ender’s Game looks and sounds spectacular.  It also features a nice collection of special features to further enhance the experience.  I can easily recommend checking this film out, as even Harrison Ford seemed to be having a good time.  The game is on!

Ender’s Game Hits Shelves 2/11/2014

Order Your Copy Here:

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Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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