This latest attempt to make an expensive ($110 million budget) book-to-movie translation into the next Harry Potter or Twilight cash-cow is one crashing bore — and that’s not the worst of it. I’m not getting into a discussion of the less-than-enlightened views of the source book’s author, Orson Scott Card (not to mention his Criswelliann predictions of Obama creating an urban gang army), but the film of his apparently well-regarded tome is lifeless, joyless and charmless. It also consistently mistakes glumness for profundity. In short, it’s an expensive and overbearing lox. It can — and will — be argued that the 1985 novel predated the Harry Potter books, so the striking similarities may be coincidental. But let’s be honest, the film really tries to work those similarities, and this whole Chosen One jazz is as old as the hills. Here, it feels more Dune-derived than anything — to the degree that I kept expecting someone to announce that Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield looking like a budget-sized Paul Ryan) is the Kwisatz Haderach. (Unfortunately, this never happens, since it would have provided a good laugh the movie could have sorely used.)
Here, the Chosen One — or whatever you want to call him — seems to have been picked on the same basis as “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” The Wiggins family has produced three potential Chosen Ones — Big brother Peter (Jimmy “Jax” Pinchak) is too hard, while middle child Valentine (Abigail Breslin) is too soft, but baby Ender is just right. This at least is what gruff Colonel Graff (grim Harrison Ford) believes, and his belief is apparently “proved” when young Ender knocks down a bully and then mercilessly kicks him. Yeah, the movie’s like that. So “gruff Graff” sticks the lad on the Hogwarts’ Express … excuse me, on the next shuttle to a military training school on some space station. Here, he will be put on the fast-track to chosen-hood by further bullying and a really uninteresting laser-tag version of Quidditch. All the while, Graff looks grim, his assistant (Viola Davis) looks concerned and finally Ben Kingsley (with Maori facial tattoos for some reason) shows up to inject a little life into the proceedings with those thick slices of ham that only Sir Ben (in paycheck mode) can provide.
And what is all this chosen business in the service of? Well, seems that 50 years ago, a bunch of insectoid aliens tried to invade earth, and who knows when those shifty bugs might be back? Therefore, it’s deemed prudent to just take them out first — something only a genius military tactician can pull off. I’m sure you can guess who that is. It’s all pretty ho-hum stuff that somehow manages to look reasonably convincing while being completely devoid of excitement. There’s also a twist to it that all but the dimmest viewer will see coming, if only because the movie has clearly shot its effects-work wad. And there’s a crise de conscience so we’ll understand that the movie doesn’t really think all the jingoistic hooey is a good thing.
What can be said about it all? Yes, it’s slickly produced, but it’s also incredibly undistinguished. All the costumes and sets have a bland, generic look, as if they were cribbed from 1970s sci-fi flicks. The acting — with the exception of Kingsley — is pretty much of the one-note variety. Everyone is given a basic character trait that they adhere to for most of the movie’s two hours. There is no humor to any of it, which I guess is meant to convince us that this is very serious business indeed. I am told that the book is thought-provoking. The movie, however — even for its late-in-the-day maundering about genocide (or xenocide) — never gets to the level of a mid-range Star Trek episode. Whether this is going to be the new Harry Potter remains to be seen, but its projected $27 million opening weekend is a far cry from the $90 million debut of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001). Rated PG-13 for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher