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by on November 1, 2013

The short review: In what could be mistaken for a two-hour video game trailer, Ender’s Game is saved in a multigenerational effort with strong performances from kid wonders and film veterans alike.

The long review: Ender’s Game, based on Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel of the same name, no doubt has an army of devout fans amassed from the legions of readers who saw themselves in Ender Wiggin when they picked up the chapter book in middle school. But whether they’ll be satisfied with Writer/Director Gavin Hood’s interpretation of the beloved sci-fi military parable is less than certain.

Set in a not-so-distant future, the people of a verdant earth ready themselves for an inevitable second War of the Worlds against the alien insect Formics. Since the devastating first attack years ago, humans have been hand-selecting children to be placed in Battle School, where the leadership is on the lookout for the next great military mind. Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) thinks he’s found just that in preternaturally intuitive Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a lanky pre-teen outsider who rapidly grows into his apparent military prowess. Only Major Anderson (the always heartbreaking Viola Davis) wonders what all this battle hardening might do to the kid in the end.

Asa Butterfield (Hugo, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) gives an impressively stoic performance as the 12-year-old Ender, the boy-genius bred to be a brilliant military commander. Even better, he holds his own up against Harrison Ford, reliably Harrison Fording his way across a raging river of digital military strategy and touch screens.

Surprisingly, the film’s phalanx of child actors delivers not the overwrought, saccharine performances borne of one too many Disney Channel pilots, but affecting and nuanced ones, this, even in spite of kid-to-watch Moises Arias’s long residency at the Disney Channel. As the sadistic team Captain Bonzo, Arias (Kings of Summer, Hannah Montana) exudes teen bully menace from every inch of his 5’ 5” frame. Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) is comfortably likeable as the sort-of love interest and the film’s lone girl.

Ender’s Game vacillates between grand, sweeping space vistas and tight, penetrating close ups, mostly on Butterfield’s steely gaze. If you’re into meticulously rendered computer generated space, well then, a good 60% of Ender’s Game is for you. And if you’re by chance also into moral grey areas concerning the mental manipulation of children in war, then a minute percentage of screen time will work for you as well.

But in the end, the film struggles to condense too much material into a two-hour run time. The book spanned six years, while the film packs all that into just about one year. With that much emotional ground to cover and a plot punctuated by long, computer-generated battle sequences, the story suffers from a lack of a sense of urgency and some seemingly forced character growth. Not even Sir Ben Kingsley as the legendary General Mazer Rackham could lend enough gravity to a story that very nearly gets lost in space.

Ender’s Game is in theaters on November 1st. What do you think of the film? Quemment below and let us know!