Buttered up to appease the current trend of teenage sci-fi/fantasy, author Orson Scott Card’s long standing resident of developmental hell splashes herculean effects onto a film, stumbling over itself in excitement.
Asa Butterfield lands repetitious close-ups as Ender Wiggin, a young something-teen with a penchant for strategic battle. Wiggin is chosen by a huffy Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) to lead humanity in a space faring war against insectoid aliens known as Formics. These (mostly) faceless beings attempted to mutilate humanity once and blind militarism has led the International Military to counter strike the Formic home world.
The innocence of children is exploited on a structure above Earth, spinning endlessly as kids are ushered into training routines. Ender’s Game constructs a blitzkrieg of exposition, scripting by Gaving Hood slashing pages from Card’s novel without the perspective of consequence. Wiggin is a patchwork character, who from this film’s viewpoint was chosen to rescue humankind because he punched another kid in homeroom.
Ender’s Game becomes a film which is both too fast and too slow, projecting cliff notes in a rush to embellish screens with dizzying zero gravity training spectacles. Side characters interject with slender definition, seemingly inserted with a wink toward fan service before scripting decapitates their purpose.
This wholesale elimination of secondary faces whittles narrative structure to its Wiggin core: a stressed, overworked, and often confused child who resents his own vicious fate. Burning under the surface are blips of information regrading Wiggin being a “third” and his brother’s defiantly violent past, inconsequential matters by the film’s crawling second half.
Shuffled through military ranks as if they’re distributed at lunch, Wiggin turns into a leader, overcoming snippets of anxiety for multiple scenes of his commanding prowess. Internal conflicts manifest themselves in a pseudo-real mind game which appears to hold clues to Wiggin’s sister (or something more), building a mystique without a narrative harness.
Ben Kingsley pops up as a master battle technician (of sorts), further slinging challenges towards Wiggin’s burdened mind as Ender’s Game enters an extended preparatory mode for its climax. Splashy explosions are cordoned off only by scenes meant to instill doubt in the audience, even if the conclusion is obviously definitive.
Ender’s Game would naturally be a vastly different feature were it handled by Warner Bros. after they latched onto the rights in the mid-90s. While the forward thinking nature of the novel is best captured with modern sophistication, Ender’s Game feels over reliant on trailer soaked glitz. As an adaptation, Gavin Hood’s offering is detached from the source’s undercurrent, throwing $100 million at the screen as kids we know nothing about yell, scream, and panic about their CG surroundings. Ender’s Game needs a pacing do over and clarifying guide book.
With some early rounds of noise cleaned up, Ender’s Game can utilize its AVC encode to move about freely. Compression’s bite is not found anywhere on this disc, nor should it considering the extraordinarily freeing bitrate. Battle room pans in space and shifting color schemes create a complex visual scenario to decode and do so without worry.
Hiccups are found within the digital source, wherein textured faces slip and lose their fidelity. Harrison Ford in particular seems impacted by the haze. Otherwise, this is supremely dense with regards to definition, bringing together close-up after close-up of dazzling facial detail. Medium shots hold to these high standards, and the extravagance of space exteriors proves overwhelming in their 1080p beauty.
Slight shifts to yellow and teal dominate the color spectrum, glancing flesh tones on a scene dependent basis. Blues are demanded by control rooms, swarming to near monochromatic levels. The yellow pinch is rarely this aggressive. Color timing otherwise plays out against the depth of space, a truly superlative black which challenges Gravity for above atmosphere superiority. Elsewhere in the barracks, black levels maintain the same hold with only a slight lessening of density.
The most impressive of Ender’s Game’s treats come in its closing moments as simulated Formics swarm by the millions. Shattering pieces of International Military ships combine to pack the screen with objects – and not one blip of visible compression seeps into the frame. Encoding work is sublime and the feature itself is often a video treat.
Playing in a 7.1 soundfield, zero gravity battle rooms come to life with voices poking from each channel. Effective pans keep characters in a solidified space as laser blasts surround them. Combat is an aggressive battle zone with a DTS-HD track to match. When large scale conflict arises, aural explosiveness rises significantly.
LFE bursts are genuinely thick, whether space craft are exiting Earth or alien ships are exploding in propaganda driven replays. Nothing feels reserved, heading for raw scale. A spectacular sequence involves Wiggin’s mind game, sending asteroids to the surface, with wind blasts cascading from the impacts and LFE power being utilized to its fullest. This is a high budget, high class audio job.
Gavin Hood begins this slate of bonuses with a solo commentary, followed by a second commentary from producers Gigi Pritzker & Robert Orci. Ender’s World is an eight part making of, nearing 50 minutes in length, focused on the process of adapting the book, training the young actors, the effects, and other topics. This is not top tier bonus material, if no less detailed. Six deleted scenes fill certain holes if not enough to satisfy the limited character gamut. Inside the Mind Games is a montage of animation in various forms of production. Trailers are left over.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.