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Ender’s Game
  • Composed by Steve Jablonsky
  • Varèse Sarabande / 2013 / 71m

Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game has come to be regarded as one of the finest science fiction novels of recent times, spawning a universe of sequels and a devoted fan base. It follows the story of the military training of a young boy considered to be mankind’s last real hope against an alien menace.  There was some considerable controversy stirred up once this film adaptation (starring amongst others Harrison Ford and Ben “You can call me Sir Ben” Kingsley) was announced because of Card’s apparently deplorable personal views on a highly-charged topic; I don’t really understand why nobody cared about these when his most famous novel wasn’t being made into a film and, having actually read the novel (presumably unlike most of the people complaining), none of the controversial opinions have any bearing on it in any case.

They weren’t the only troubles plaguing the film and, after post-production had just begun, the entire post-production crew (including the original composer) were fired and replaced by cheaper alternatives.  Eventually Steve Jablonsky was announced as the composer; I don’t want to be too cruel but this could hardly be considered a promising sign as to the quality of the film.  If the filmmakers had made an attempt to incorporate its grown-up, complex social subtext then surely they would have trodden an alternative musical route.  Presumably what they actually wanted was music to appeal to the audience of Transformers.

Steve Jablonsky

Steve Jablonsky

And that’s pretty much what’s been delivered.  This lengthy album features non-stop surface-level, in-the-moment music which sadly makes no dramatic or emotional impression or seems to have any purpose other than provide the desired sonic wallpaper.  I’m sure that’s exactly what was requested, though I’ll never understand why that seems to be for many filmmakers film music’s raison d’être right now.  I won’t bother with another diatribe against modern film scoring techniques led by the Remote Control group (my Man of Steel review says all I need to say on that topic) – this is just another entry to add to the long list of entirely interchangeable, generic, personality-free scores that have been so prevalent in recent years.

The HORN OF DOOM is here – of course it is – the action ostinato you’ve heard a million times before is here – of course it is – whatever orchestra there may be is drowned out by the orchestral parts being doubled or replaced by synths – of course it is.  There are times when even scores that fit all those descriptions can still be very enjoyable if they contain a decent tune or two – sorry, none here.  Is the undulating electric cello solo perhaps intended to add a touch of class?  But it can’t – the composition isn’t distinguished enough for it to.  The choir, the grand swirling string phrases – every moment here is scored as if it’s the most important moment in the film.  So, of course, none of it has any impact.  It’s a great mush of sound, indistinctive and unmemorable.  21 tracks are indexed but it’s hard to know whether any of them is different from any of the rest.  Actually, I’m exaggerating – some of the muscular anthemic scoring which becomes more prevalent towards the album’s conclusion is more attractive – even then though, it’s all been heard so many times before, and done with considerably more aplomb in a lot of Remote Control scores even of the more generic variety.

It goes without saying that I’m a miserable old fart and I shouldn’t be so cruel, Jablonsky’s only doing what he was asked to, he works so hard; and in any case what do I know about anything? Lots of people enjoyed the music in Transformers and Battleship and whatever and the same people will no doubt enjoy this.  (Those people probably stopped coming to Movie Wave a while back.)  I think it’s a crying shame that such a big-budget adaptation of such a major science fiction novel – this is the genre that has inspired so many brilliant film scores – should end up with music like this, even if the film does turn out to be atrocious (as the trailer suggests it probably is).  About the best thing I can think of to say is that it isn’t as bad as Battleship.  But, sorry, it’s still terrible.

Rating: *

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  1. Eric Marcy on Tuesday 8 October, 2013 at 19:45

    This is disappointing. Not because I had high hopes for this score (I felt tremendous anxiety when I found out Jablonsky was doing the score) but because I absolutely love this source material. “Ender’s Game” is one of my all time favorite books, and I was hoping against hope to at least have a decent musical identity for it to enjoy. I’ll give it a listen through myself, but alas…

  2. James Southall on Tuesday 8 October, 2013 at 19:56

    I thought the same, Eric. I loved the book. I was keeping everything crossed that it got music worthy of it.

  3. Ad de Nijs on Tuesday 8 October, 2013 at 20:03

    I was already afraid that it would turn out that way.
    This kind of movies are somehow attracting the industrial approach.

    But probably we will upload it to our database as there are always members/listeners
    who really like this kind of music.

    *sigh*

  4. orion_mk3 on Tuesday 8 October, 2013 at 20:22

    I was really hoping for Jablonsky to pull a “Steamboy” here, but it’s clear he was hired to pull a “Transformers.” The MV/RC crew is having its revenge on James Horner for having the audacity to replace the replacers on “The Karate Kid,” surely.

  5. Mikal on Tuesday 8 October, 2013 at 20:29

    Funnily (that always sounds like such an odd adverb to me), if I shared your opinion of the score, the book *would* be getting music worthy of it. :-P Never was a huge fan of it, my repulsion at OSC’s deplorable views notwithstanding.

  6. Matt C. on Wednesday 9 October, 2013 at 00:04

    Another scoring opportunity wasted by the Hollywood machine. I would have loved to see what James Horner could of come up with. :-( It is sad that we will never know.

  7. christopher on Wednesday 9 October, 2013 at 00:12

    I loved ENDER’S GAME (Card’s novel). I was really looking forward to Horner’s score. Sounds like this film will be a big letdown :(

  8. Jason Farcone on Wednesday 9 October, 2013 at 05:52

    in MY day the horn of doom phrase was reserved for horner. THAT WAS YOUR DAY TOO REMEMBER ASSHOLE

  9. Jason Farcone on Wednesday 9 October, 2013 at 05:54

    (and you could(‘ve)) chosen a somewhat better shot of jablonsky eeeehhhh)

  10. Michael Horne on Wednesday 9 October, 2013 at 06:02

    Oh dear. Sounds like a car-wreck of a score. This less-than-gradual take-over by Remote Control is disturbing when there are so many other great composers out there looking for their breakthrough into the big-time. In any case a movie with such a high-profile as this should’ve been in the Horner/Silvestri league…

  11. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. on Thursday 10 October, 2013 at 17:24

    When a movie as highly publicised as ENDER’s GAME is globally spotlighted, all the creative talent involved are scrutinized–including the AUTHOR. James, I am a fan of the Ender franchise from the opening narrative in Rotterdam “the main seaport of Hell”, a haven for vicious bullies, feral youths and victims….to the Battle School where the hi-tech military strategies & tactics are taught in a daily environment of humiliation & violence among competitive boys becoming testosterone-charged adolescents. Later there’s confrontation with Aliens… in their worst nightmares they’d never encountered a species more monstrous than the ENDER-led human space warriors. In other sequels, ENDER is despised by humanity as a Zenophobe but never as a HOMOPHOBE. And, according to the Florida Times, there are NO ANTI-GAY sentiments in the movie and Orson Scott Card has resigned from the Mormon -fuelled anti-gay lobbies. Everyone’s allowed a change of opinion especially when a Hollywood Franchise is probably in the offing. I loved TRANSFORMERS – a great heroic theme and spiritually uplifting theme for our Earth are highlights…and if, as you wrote James, ENDER’s GAME is not unlike TRANSFORMERS then I’m OK with that. I agree that BATTLESHIP was awful…its a pity though, that JABLONSKY refers to that critically maligned score in the structure of ENDER.

  12. Jason Farcone on Friday 11 October, 2013 at 17:44

    touche andre, touche

  13. Kevin on Tuesday 15 October, 2013 at 02:40

    Meh. Ever since the news broke out that James Horner wasn’t doing this after all, my interest in this evaporated.

  14. James on Tuesday 29 October, 2013 at 10:32

    Hadn’t seen your site before but had a good laugh reading your review. Reading this and your reviews of Zimmer’s work you seen to be either bitter or really full of yourself.

    Can you point me to some film music *you* have composed? It must be absolutely amazing.

  15. James Southall on Tuesday 29 October, 2013 at 18:33

    I don’t believe it is a requirement of a consumer to be experienced in creating the thing they are consuming before they are allowed to have an opinion about it.

    About what do you think I am bitter?

    Did you read my review of Inception or Rush or Beyond Rangoon or The House of the Spirits or The Lion King when deciding that I am bitter or full of myself?

  16. Edmund Meinerts on Wednesday 30 October, 2013 at 16:55

    Ooh, the “let’s see you do better” argument. How original. Roger Ebert didn’t make movies, did he?

  17. Killian on Friday 15 November, 2013 at 17:26

    Remote Control and by extension Hanz Zimmer and his ilk are the MacDonald’s of film music. Yes, a lot of people eat there and many of them even enjoy it. But deep down we all know it’s garbage.

    Horner would have done something truly classy that the film deserved, clearly the folks at Lionsgate have absolutely no taste and frankly they probably don’t care. They deserve to lose tens of millions of dollars if not more on this effort.

    This is what happens when studios are run by accountants and lawyers with about as much creative instinct as a rock in the desert.

  18. SteveV on Sunday 24 November, 2013 at 00:07

    I wonder…if the music for this movie (which I enjoyed very much and intend to read the book afterwads) is such bad, why do I keep listening to it for 2 days almost non-stop?
    Yes, there i basically only one major theme in many variations. But it’s really piece of art.
    And for example the Inception mentioned there – I remember only daa-daa-daaa horns from that.
    But all of it is just my opinion, same as the review is your opinion. Apparently we do not agree in the taste. Anyway, thanks for the review. Which doesn’t mean that I’m not glad that I didn’t read it before I listened to the music – I am.

  19. Killian on Monday 9 December, 2013 at 18:48

    Edmund Meinerts, please see the following:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beyond_the_Valley_of_the_Dolls