Very rarely do I go to see a live-action family film nowadays. There isn’t usually one that makes me want to go out and see it. However Ender’s Game was one that caught my eye. It’s based on the novel written by Orson Scott Card.
It’s the future and the Earth is under threat from alien Formics. They’ve already attacked in the year 2086 but their advances were halted by a small reserve force which involved an attack which had commander Mazer Rackham sacrifice himself in the battle to win. The International Fleet or IF was created shortly after to protect the Earth from the Formics.
Years later, IF commanders Colonel Hyrum Graff and Major Gwen Anderson are screening out teenage cadets as part of their next battle. They’re impressed with the intelligence and strategic thinking of cadet Andrew Ender Wiggin both with his playing of virtual games and his ability to deal with rejection in a fake dismissal. Ender is a complex boy. He’s smart as he can deliver what it takes to win virtual games but has a sensitivity as he feels like a misfit because he’s the ‘third born’ and frequently confides with his older sister Valentine. However it’s when Graff and Anderson visit the Wiggin household that things change. They offer him a place in their battle school. It’s after an intimate talk with Graff that Ender accepts because: “it was what he was born for.”
On the trip to the school via the shuttle, Ender and the other recruits or launchies are given lessons of the school by Sargent Dap. Ender further impresses Major Anderson when she asks him to create a mind game for the sake of analyzing recruit’s emotional states. He creates a mouse and giant game where he causes a surprise win to Anderson’s amazement.
The intrigue on Ender continues to grow. Ender is then promoted to the Salamander Army headed by Commander Bonzo Madrid. Bonzo is a fierce trainer with an unlikeable personality. One of his top students, Petra Arkanian, takes a liking to Ender and teaches him how to shoot free time. Bonzo starts a feeling of dislike to Ender especially after he cheats with Petra during a training game and they win with a surprise attack. Ender continues with his mouse mind game where he also has a Formic, an image of his sister, a snake he kills off and his brother in the game. The military are further amazed with Ender and switch him to the Dragon Army. To everyone’s surprise, he defeats the other two army’s including the Salamander Army headed by Bonzo in a weightless battle contest.
Despite Ender amazing the heads of the military, things start to take a turn for the worse. Bonzo is infuriated with Ender after his army loses and challenges him to a fight. Ender seriously injures Bonzo in self-defence leaving Bonzo badly injured enough to return to Earth. The emotional toll weighs in on Ender and demands to be flown back to Earth and leave the army. It’s right after Valentine convinces him to stay and fight that he continues on.
Ender learns of his mission through a travel to a Formic outpost of the IT. It’s there through the image of the deceased Mazer Rackham that he learns of his mission and of his most deadly devise on their ship. Ender then becomes a commander and assembles the best launchies and trainies he’s been working with. They continue training up for a ‘Graduation Day’ exercise. Gaduation Day turns out to be a game but it turns out to be a lot more. After the outcome, everybody is happy with Ender and themselves for what they have done, except Ender. He’s remorseful and it’s only after meeting with one of the Formics in his mind that he makes clear what his next mission is.
The movie is intended to be both a sci-fi action film for the family and the first book of a potential series. The film shows Ender Wiggin as a fighter who triumphs via brain more than brawn. It was once said in a US Marines commercial years ago: “To compete, you have to be strong. To win, you have to be smart.” Ender’s that smart competitor who’s able to make his mind do incredible things even to the point of the supernatural in the virtual world. That was the type of hero Orson Scott Card intended with Ender Wiggin. However Ender is unique in terms of his sensitivity and feeling for others, including his enemies. In fact a unique quote from Ender appears at the beginning of the film: “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.” It’s there where we understand Ender Wiggin and how he’s able to do what he does. He’s a very unique protagonist in both how he thinks and how he feels and how someone so young can do all this.
You may remember how back in the summer I talked about big-budget action thrillers losing at the box office. I figured that the fall season would provide a better picture for them. It has been better but the outcome has been better for the more established movie franchises like Riddick, Insidious and Thor. Ender’s Game is a sci-fi thriller that is the first of the trilogy of Ender Wiggin novels. Any hope of future films rode on the success of Ender’s Game. The film debuted at #1 but with a weekend intake of only $27 million, it was questionable whether it would hit its $110 million budget. The latter weeks have shown it wouldn’t as it gained less and less. It now stands at just $55 million. It’s unfortunate that the success didn’t pan out, especially since this is 28 years in the making. However all is not lost. If there are no additional films, it may be turned into a television series.
Harrison Ford did a good job as Colonel Graff, even though I’ve seen him play better and stronger action roles. He shows that even after three decades he can still make the thriller. Viola Davis was probably the best scene stealer as Major Gwen. She showed that she’s able to upstage Harrison at times. Asa Butterfield was also very good as the protagonist Ender Wiggin. Actually he’s a major reason why I saw this. He impressed me in Hugo and I was looking forward to seeing how he would do in Ender’s Game. He did a very good job of playing a child soldier that was both an outside soldier and an inside soldier. Also he was able to give Ender more dimension with his sense of emotions and feelings. Asa helped make Ender a unique character. Ben Kingsley was also good in his role of Mazer but lacked scene-stealing qualities. The young supporting characters were also very well done. Haille Steinfeld made Petra likeable, Abigail Breslin was very convincing as making Valentine the source of Ender’s mental strength and Moises Arias was very successful in making Bonzo dislikeable.
Gavin Hood did a very good job in terms of directing. The screenplay was also done well but I feel the ending could have been done better. His best effort is the South African film Tsotsi which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film but he already has experience in directing sci-fi with directing X-Men: Wolverine. The movie’s qualities that most stand out are its visual effects and the score by Steve Jablonsky. The film did have some controversy as Orson Scott Card’s opposition to the same-sex lifestyle and gay marriage has caused outspoken critics and pundits. Card has defended his views each time. As for my feeling, I feel Card’s opinions should not matter in terms of this film because his opinions are not made present in the film anyways.
Ender’s Game is an impressively smart sci-fi film for families and young adults. It’s a very smart story that’s very well-done. However it does fall prey to the box office because of its lack of buzz and tight competition of other sci-fi releases this November.
Hugo is a delightful movie based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. It’s a unique story about how a chance stealing by a young boy changed everything forever.
It all starts in a train station in Paris in 1930. Hugo Cabret has a life no child would want. He lives in the train station completely orphaned and with nothing but a bed and an automaton from his late father whom he hopes to repair. He ended up there after his widowed father was killed in a fire and taken by his alcoholic uncle who would look after the station clock. After his uncle died, Hugo steals food and runs the clock himself from revealing the death of his uncle. If the truth is found out, he will be sent to an orphanage.
One steal by Hugo of a toy part from the station’s toy store owner would change everything. Hugo was able to escape the station policeman thanks to his leg brace being caught in a train. Hugo however loses a book of animated drawings to the toy store owner. For Hugo to get it back, the toy store owner punishes Hugo by making fix his broken toys. The toy store owner is surprised to see that Hugo is very skilled at fixing toys thanks to his father’s teachings.
Soon Hugo catches the attention of Isabelle, the girl who frequently visits the train station. She is an orphan too who is being looked after by the toy store owner, whom she refers to as Papa Jacques. He notices the key she wears: it is heart-shaped. His automaton has a heart-shaped lock. Another link to the mystery. The two spend time together. She sees the clock area Hugo lives and the view of Paris. The two sneak into a movie theatre and see a movie, something Papa Jacques forbids her to see. Later Hugo uses Isabelle’s heart-shaped key on the automaton. The automaton draws a picture of the moon with a spaceship in his eye and the name Jacques Melies.
The two try and search further to see if Papa Jacques really is Jacques Melies. Upon a return visit to the house, they try to uncover the top drawer in his bedroom. Out comes a wide variety of imaginative artist images. Nevertheless Jacques is distraught to learn the children have learned of his secret. It’s only until the children bring a young film student to Jacques that Jacques finally reveals that he really is Jacques Melies, director extraordinaire of the early 20th Century. He explains to all why he became a recluse, because of his films failing as the First World War was taking place. He even burned most of the master copies of his films in a fit of rage during his downtime. It is through Hugo and the film student that he’s able to receive an acclaim from a new generation of film enthusiasts. It is also where Hugo finally finds a family.
The movie is more than just a salute to Jacques Melies and his contribution to film in general. This movie is also a salute to moviemaking and movie watching. Movies achieved their greatness by making people’s fantasies come to life. They took them to worlds never before imagined. They took them to adventures and thrills they wouldn’t experience in their own lives. And to think it all started when a film of a train approaching the station made the audience duck for their lives. Nowadays movies face a lot of rivalry from many entertainment sources. Its biggest rival is now video games which allow the viewer to live the fantasy via an avatar, but movies still capture people’s attention and take them to worlds they never dreamed of.
Even though the movie is very much a salute to movies, it’s also a reminder that even then, great directors like Melies faced downtimes too. Jacques created hundreds of movies in his lifetime but as soon as most of the French public lost their liking for movies his fortune disappeared, his studio became useless, burned his films in anger and lived in obscurity for years. Nowadays we hear countless stories of people, especially greats, who had their moment but fade fast and die in obscurity without a penny. It happens to greats as often as it happens to ‘one-hit wonders’. Showbiz is cruel. Fortunately there does come a time long after their downfall when their achievements are recognized once again. It may be while they’re still alive or it may be post mortem but their greatness does become remembered and honored again.
Overall the movie was top-notch quality. That’s something you rarely see in most live-action family movies. There was no one acting performance that stood out or was spectacular but the performances of all worked excellently with the movie. Ben Kingsley was very good as Jacques. Sacha Baron Cohen who’s known for his comedic characters was great as the comic relief of the movie. The child actors of Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz did an excellent job in their lead roles. The story was very well-adapted and well-edited as it’s able to keep the audience excited, thrilled and interested from start to finish. Martin Scorsese did another excellent directing job. He’s tackled a lot of genres of film excellently and now he achieves another triumph in directing family movies. The score by Howard Shore fit the movie perfectly. The visual effects were also amongst the best of the year. The movie being shown in 3D worked. This was one of the rare times in which the 3D viewing appeared to be less in vain or for extra money and more for the delight of the crowd. It looked like Scorsese knew that if he was to have a movie in 3D, he should have the effects that make it work.
One thing that’s been unique in the film world of recent years is that a lot of well-renowned directors have started to make family movies. Seven years ago, Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire) released Millions: a story about a boy who encounters a bag of stolen money and consults patron saints for advice. Many years ago, Roman Polanski did his version of Oliver Twist to make a movie for his children who were twelve and under at the time. Two years ago, Spike Jonze directed the film adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are. Even Quentin Tarantino says he’s interested in doing a family film if the right idea comes around.
Now we have Martin Scorsese with a family movie out. It may come as a surprise since he has been renowned for his filmmaking of some of the grittiest legendary dramas. Nevertheless if Martin was to make a family movie, Hugo would be the perfect fit. The celebration of film in Hugo is something Martin would do well because Martin is known to have a love for film itself. Martin even did a documentary series for the BBC years ago where he narrated the history of film and its genres. In Hugo we see Martin’s love for film as much as we see the reasons why movies have become so beloved. Even Roger Ebert described the move as “in some ways, a mirror of his own life.” And the love of film started with Jacques Melies. Martin Scorsese does more than just make a family movie. He also makes a masterpiece that even adults can appreciate, especially those who love film. The film has been nominated for Best Picture and ten other categories at this year’s Oscars. It is the first live-action family movie since Babe to be nominated for Best Picture.
Hugo is a pleasant film not just in terms of family movies but all films. Very rarely is a family movie able to be referred to as a masterpiece. Very rarely does a family movie deserve to be referred to as a masterpiece. Hugo is that rare.
NOTE: Usually around this time, I start my reviews of the Best Picture nominees. I have five more reviews coming. Best Picture nominees already reviewed are: Midnight In Paris, The Help and Moneyball.