[img]http://www.avsforum.com/content/type/61/id/359715/width/500/height/700/flags/LL[/img]Releasing/Participating Studio(s): Summit Entertainment/LIONSGATE
Disc/Transfer Information: Region A; 1080p High Definition 2.40:1 (Original Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Tested Audio Track: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Director: Gavin Hood
Starring Cast: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Ben Kingsley, Abigail Breslin
I know there has been some critical acclaim and gushing over this “sci fi gone nuts/Star Wars-for-juveniles” Gavin Hood exploitation that fuses elements from Tron and even Event Horizon, but I must wholeheartedly disagree with the way in which the film was called “SPECTACULAR!” as evidenced on the cover of Ender’s Game’s Blu-ray release from Summit/LIONSGATE. To be honest, I didn’t know what was going on here most of the time and lost interest a mere 20 minutes in; to make matters worse, the film stars a Ben Kingsley that looks and acts more menacing – if you can believe that – in the brief stint he plays here than he ever came off as in the actual final film version in Iron Man 3 playing Tony Stark’s most infamous archenemy, The Mandarin. The film is based on an acclaimed science fiction novel, of course, and purports a plot that suggests a “genocidal” alien race known as the Formics have strategically invaded Earth of the future (a la the opening frames of films like Pacific Rim and maybe even War of the Worlds), forcing the Earthlings to come up with a response tactic. This comes in the form of young “Ender Wiggin” – I know…I laughed at the name too – who is groomed by the futuristic military organization assigned to protect and avenge Earth (the “International Military") to lead the fight against the Formics. Asa Butterfield, a name as weird as the character he plays, portrays Ender Wiggin, while Harrison Ford portrays Colonel Graff, the hard-edged senior commander of the military teams put together to fight the Formics. The uber-cute Hailee Steinfeld plays Petra Arkanian, Ender’s eventual love interest during his training and fellow soldier, while Abigail Breslin plays Ender’s sister Valentine. Rounding out the cast, for the most part, is Ben Kingsley, portraying a facial-tattooed warrior who once showed the military the way to somewhat defeat the alien enemy, Mazer Rackham. Incidentally, Mazer’s “way” of “defeating” the Formics was to actually steer and, seemingly, fly his fighter into the mother ship…does this sound familiar? Kind of like…hmmm…let’s say Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day?
Oh, how we want to forget that it was Randy “Cousin Eddie” Quaid who saved mankind from the aliens in that…
Getting back to Ender’s Game, you must really have to understand and fully get involved in the book the film was based on to understand what’s ultimately going on here – the film comes off like a strange mixture of Aliens, Tron, Elysium and even Star Wars but replaces honest-to-goodness adult characterizations with little kids – some of which aren’t more than five feet tall in the case of “Bonzo Madrid” (played by Moises Arias) – whom are saluted by senior adult staff members of the military and given missions to command on their own. The whole thing came off silly to me, but, again, it must be the premise of the novel; most of the running time of Ender’s Game is spent developing the main character’s training and honing his “unusual skills” to the point he’s more in line to be a commander officer for this future Earth’s military than any “adult” under Graff’s watch. Ender goes to a “battle school” complete with Tron-esque virtual reality simulators and games, designed to teach the kids in this academy how to engage the Formics when their next conflict with them comes. There, he moves up the ranks to the point he’s put in charge of his own squad of kids, many of whom were once bullies to him, while making new enemies along the way, such as the ridiculously short and loud-mouthed “Bonzo Madrid” (Moises Arias), a Latino who is known as “Bonesaw” to the kid soldiers under his “command.” Pushed around and bullied during training by this Bonzo, Ender stands up to him and physically defends himself – a trait Colonel Graff noticed in Ender earlier on and why he wanted him to be chosen to lead the military forces – which ultimately leads to an undertone theme of the film…that which suggests by standing up to a bully early on and hurting him, future messages to other bullies will be sent and therefore will make them think twice about starting up with what is perceived to be a weakling. I don’t know…did this ever work for you in high school when the moronic, testosterone-fueled jocks picked on ya? Were you ever made to feel like you were the hero, not the imbecile beating up on you while the school’s hottest chicks cheered him on? And why is it in all these films – Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man included when “Flash” Thompson attempts to beat up Peter but gets a butt-whuppin’ himself by the gawky teen -- it’s suggested that if you are in fact picked on and bullied, it’s absolutely NOT okay to fight back and give the animals who hurt you a taste of their own medicine? Why is this shunned upon in popular culture? Are we just supposed to stand there and take it? And then all of a sudden we’re complete “freaks” when we fight back? Ender’s Game touches on this most often overlooked aspect of growing up in more than a few sequences.
As the final simulation training tests come to a close and the military prepares Ender for a real full-scale war with the alien race confronting them, some other elements come into play: Ender himself is beginning to have reservations about attacking their so-called “enemy” without even trying to communicate with them first, while also meeting Ben Kingsley’s Mazer character, who trains him for the final battle based on the experiences he himself had with the enemy before. There’s also some kind of reference to a “mind game” Ender engages in, one which makes him realize the alien queen may in fact be attempting to communicate with Earthlings even after its army was pretty much wiped out by the Earth military in their last confrontation. The whole things gets very sci-fi to the point it feels like it’s being poured on like thick maple syrup on buttermilk pancakes and unless you’re deep into these video game-esque-visions-turned-motion pictures, it’s going to make things all the more frustrating as you watch it.
Ender and his team of young warriors make one final simulator room training session, with Graff and senior military staff watching from an observation platform, faced with the fact they have one last chance to get this simulation right in order to prove to the higher-ups they are worthy to engage the enemy…but is this “training” what it seems? Is this really just a “training exercise” or was Harrison Ford’s Graff character manipulating and lying to Ender all this time for some secondary motive? And, ultimately, was this kid named Ender right about any of his premonitions regarding the alien queen and being able to communicate with their race? You’ll have to endure Ender’s Game to find out.
[img]http://www.digitaltrends.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Enders-Game-10.jpg[/img]VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC LOOK?
While the material on display was questionable, the 2.40:1 1080p encode prepared for Ender’s Game on Blu-ray by LIONSGATE/Summit looked sensational with rich, deep blacks, solid facial detail (and detail in general), noiseless and grain-free elements and highly stylized colors. The blacks of space were infinite and dimensional and the whole presentation took on a specific Tron-like appearance with somewhat floaty, surreal visuals from time to time. The yellows and blues of the spacesuits gleamed with a genuine glow, while the foliage exhibited in the future Earth shots were ripe with that typical high definition clarity we have all come to know and love…you know, blades of grass were detailed and individualized, barks of trees exhibited nooks and crannies, the concrete of streets were rendered so realistically you could almost walk on them through your display…all the elements that are, most of the time, rendered “washed out” in DVD transfers.
There were moments of contrast blowout, where the screen would get blindingly bright to the point details were lost – but these were no doubt filming and photographic decisions, not a fault of the Blu-ray transfer.
[img]http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-VJjhHuR9TgU/UpzgPhMxdRI/AAAAAAAAASg/-igN2uD2aHc/s1600/enders-game-tv.jpg[/img]AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC SOUND?
Again, the review sample of Ender’s Game I received by an editor of a publication I work for on a freelance basis contained only a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track even though this was a Blu-ray release. There is some controversy over this matter which I have discussed via multiple email conversations with not only my editors but representatives at some of these studios, like LIONSGATE, and which purports, in a nutshell, that rental and review samples given out for some major titles (from some particular studios) are going to contain lossy – not lossless – audio tracks due to a host of factors. Still, the Dolby Digital mix here, running at a higher bitrate than standard DVD, was absolutely no slouch and was perfectly acceptable for the material on display. From the opening sequence onward, the track exhibited wall-pounding bass, incredible dynamics and clear center channel presentation that really drew me into the visuals (though I was admittingly not interested in the material).
As a side note, the "commercially available" Blu-ray for Region A comes equipped with a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track in English.
What I found surprising on this track was the somewhat shallow and light use of the surround channels in the mix; what stood out was the virtual reality simulation training sequences when the kids are firing mock phasers at one another…these sequences were accompanied by aggressive, whooshing whips of audio cues that fired this way and that over my head and across the whole soundstage, really waking up the soundtrack. But in general, there was a distinct lack of surround activity outside of these scenes – moments that could have benefitted from discrete digital cue placement. Be that as it may, the LFE on this mix more than made up for the surround staging (or lack thereof) as explosions and tension-ridden scenes were accompanied by deep, forceful wallops of bass that had my sub shaking to bits and my walls and everything on them ready to crumble. I may have even detected – at somewhat “standard” volume levels – a momentary snap/crack from my sub, often indicating the bass is so deep and plumbing that my particular model just can’t handle it…so you know that means the LFE on this track is more than capable of rocking the house. Literally.
This wasn’t my cup of tea, but as always, your mileage and interest in film will vary. To me, it was like watching Anakin Skywalker in a pre, pre, pre-quel of George Lucas’ space opus attempting to “command” a legion of other Pampers-wearing space cadets that are supposed to be the “answer” to Earth’s military response in case of another alien attack. The novel this is based on probably gives all the answers to these “issues” I had – and more – but I don’t have any personal experience with the book; Harrison Ford tries his hardest as the senior commanding officer of this squad of the future while Ben Kingsley is sort of wasted in his rendition of the tattooed warrior that once saved humans from these beings, as he’s not given nearly enough screen time to develop any sense of formidable characterization (though, notably, he was better in this than he was in the awful Iron Man 3).
In the end, I found Ender’s Game a bit of a strange science fiction film, one that would be better suited to true sci fi geeks that appreciate the concept of kids going into space to train in a futuristic military of some kind. I can recommend a rental for the fanatically curious; it wasn’t a buy for me, personally.
And, unfortunately friends, I am not going to be able to review the next title I'm about to watch tonight, the remake of Carrie, due to its "R" rating...my apologies.