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Originally published October 31, 2013 at 12:11 AM | Page modified October 31, 2013 at 12:26 PM

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‘Ender’s Game’: remarkable effects and a story with heart

“Ender’s Game,” Gavin Hood’s adaptation of the sci-fi classic, brings heartfelt acting together with remarkable effects, and builds to a wrenching moral crisis.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 3 stars

‘Ender’s Game,’ with Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Abigail Breslin and Ben Kingsley. Directed by Gavin Hood from a script by Hood. 114 minutes. Rated PG-13 for violence, sci-fi action and thematic material. Several theaters.

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Asa Butterfield is the living Ender. Butterfield, with piercing gaze and singular intensity, brings novelist Orson Scott Card’s signature child hero to full and vivid life in filmmaker Gavin Hood’s epic adaptation of Card’s sci-fi classic, “Ender’s Game.”

Butterfield, 15 at the time the picture was shot, is steely yet empathetic as Ender, the unlikely savior of humanity. In the future envisioned by Card in his 1985 best-seller, Earth is waging a long-running war with giant alien insects whose ability to quickly adapt to human battle tactics has prompted the military to turn to genius children to fight the foe.

Brilliant kids, the theory goes, are vastly more flexible in their thinking than hidebound grown-ups and so are better suited to outwitting the alien hordes. And the smartest of the smart is the boy Ender, a skinny 12-year-old bred to have the special psychological attributes needed to be the master commander of Earth’s armed forces.

Butterfield’s heartfelt, nuanced performance makes the audience appreciate the terrible weight placed on the slender shoulders of the deeply conflicted Ender by his unsparing adult trainers, particularly a high-ranking officer played by Harrison Ford in full curmudgeon mode.

Hood’s script tracks the novel quite closely, though it compresses events to accommodate a running time of just under two hours. The story’s essence is retained, from its focus on Ender’s intelligent and sometimes lethal resistance to bullying by other kids, to balletic zero-gravity battle-training sequences that are remarkable examples of special-effects wizardry. Most notable is the conclusion, in which Earth’s war is waged and won in a way that imposes a wrenching moral crisis on Ender.

This is sci-fi with a brain, and a heart.

Soren Andersen:

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