Books offer quality, well-told stories. Music is a treat for your ears. Movies are, first and foremost, a visual medium. This continues a series focusing on that element of filmmaking: the art of cinematography. The following is a collection of my favorite shots from Ender’s Game. [may contain spoilers]
The Ender’s Game novel has been highly regarded for most, if not all, of the 30 or so years since its initial publishing. As someone who was familiar with the material, I immediately wrote off the potential of the big screen adaptation when it was announced. After I’d found out it was being developed by the guy who made X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I did whatever it is one does after they’ve written something off. I guess I wrote it more off. But then the movie hit theaters... and I found it to be much better than it ever had any right being.
If I’m honest, I wasn’t always as pessimistic about the production as some fans were. I hadn’t forgotten that director/screenwriter Gavin Hood garnered some positive recognition during the awards season (whatever that is really worth) in 2005 with a South African film called Tsotsi. So despite Ender’s Game falling into possibly-trustworthy hands, we were still dealing with a relatively unfilmable story. As Orson Scott Card wrote it, Ender Wiggin and his peers were about 6-10 years old. The kids were often running around naked. There was a lot of psychological development of the protagonist, and a major subplot took place almost entirely on the internet. But just when I started to worry we had another Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on the way (love the book, cannot stand the movie), casting news began coming in. Asa Butterfield, who capably led my beloved Hugo, won the starring role. Academy Award nominees Hailee Steinfeld and Viola Davis, along with the crowd-pleasing Harrison Ford, were cast as prominent supporting characters. As such, the movie was in rather undeniably good hands in front of the camera. This proved valuable, as I think that cast played a big part in making Ender's Game an enjoyable movie despite mediocre writing and direction.
Another role-player that elevated the material (segues are hard) was cinematographer Donald McAlpine. Before I go on, let me just point out the massive opportunity they missed in regards to the closing credits. That image above is how the title appears in Ender’s Game. Most of the film takes place in space, and that is the goodbye we’re given? Future space epics, take a cue from Star Trek.
This is one of the first glimpses we get of the main character, Ender Wiggin. Using only the most expressive body part, it succinctly exhibits a couple of Ender’s key traits: his focus and determination (note his furrowed brow and the piercing look cast at his opponent). The consistent color palette across the whole frame is nifty as well.
Space. SPAAAAAAACE. It’s a really cool place, and downright photogenic to boot. Space shuttles get you there, and they’re pretty pretty too. Factor in the excellent location that includes a field of mirror-like solar panels in the foreground and a snowy mountain for a backdrop and you’ve got yourself some stunning imagery.
Utilizing symmetry is such a simple way to make photography visually appealing that it almost seems like cheating. I think there is something psychological at work, as if a symmetrical image inherently acts as eye candy. To look a bit more into the shot on the right, I really like the camera’s movement. Its graceful, sweeping motion is a natural characteristic to have as it is currently residing in a zero-gravity environment.
Hearkening back to the first gif discussed above, this one captures Ender near the end of the movie. The colors have changed from what we saw before, but they remain consistent within the shot despite featuring multiple subjects. The main subject, our protagonist, is again providing little else to the shot aside from a glimpse into his emotions and mental condition. And look! More symmetry!
This shot on the left grabbed my attention every time I watched Ender’s Game. I love how in tracking with one object (a sort of robotic arm) we quickly get a look at two explicit subjects: Ender’s screaming pain then the monitor and its lengthy wires that were just inside the poor boy’s head (if I could make the gif longer, we’d see the shot go on to show more bloody evidence of the brutal separation of the two previous subjects). In contrast, we see Ender’s sister, who one might assume is happy in a post-war peacetime, calmly gazing at her little brother’s mobile. The warm colors stand out again. It’s almost as if it was intentional, like the filmmakers meant to separate scenes revolving around family and home from those associated with the military by crafting them distinct color palettes...
Okay, so Ender’s Game isn’t a strikingly beautiful movie. Its home video release just happened to coincide with my next scheduled entry in this series of articles and I thought, “Why not?” I’ll shine a light on something better in about seven days’ time...