This one has been a long time coming. Adapted from Orson Scott Card‘s 1985 best selling science fiction novel, an Ender’s Game movie has been in the works in one form or another since 1996.
Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is a highly intelligent, yet reserved, young boy, attending a specialized school intended to find the best and brightest children of Earth. The reason? Fifty years ago, Earth was attacked and nearly destroyed by an alien race known as the Formics. Determined not to face such devastation again, Earth’s military has spent years recruiting children as the next generation of battle ready leaders. With minds and bodies easily molded and the ability to absorb new technology faster than the past generation, they are looked as the best hope for humanities survival.
When he shows himself not only to be brilliant, but physically capable and in the possession of a cunning survival instinct, Ender is personally chosen by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) to attend Battle School and train to help win the impending war. Pushed hard by Graff and other recruits, Ender soon rises through the ranks, proving himself time and again to everyone, except, perhaps, himself. Abigail Breslin, Hailey Steinfeld, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, and Moisés Arias also star.
It’s nearly impossible to think of this film separate from the novel. Despite having only read it once, some years ago, a lot of it remains embedded in my memory. Not many details, but overall themes and emotions, making it a bit difficult to separate what I “know” about the character of Ender and what Butterfield’s character actually reveals through the film. It’s telling that it is, in fact, so hard to separate the two. Even if the film abbreviates some things – after all, a good portion of the novel takes place in Ender’s thoughts – the same basic character comes through on screen. I have to wonder if those who haven’t read the novel will “get” the character as thoroughly, but for me, Card’s writing and Butterfield’s performance mesh very nicely.
The obvious question everyone will have is how does the movie compare to the book. Transition to the big screen is not often kind to source material, and Ender’s Game is regarded as classic and loved by many. It’s dangerous ground to tread, but, in my opinion, the film succeeds. The most obvious change is the fact that Ender and his compatriots are aged up. For so many reasons this movie would not have worked had he been six years old. Not the least of which being, what six year old do you know that could be put in such a dramatically and physically intense role? This change is approved by me, though it might have been nice to show how he got his start at that young age before fast forwarding to his present age.
The timeline of events is also abbreviated and condensed, showing very little of his time in Battle School, which does feel a little awkward. It’s a little hard to accept him as becoming a hardened combat expert with a war worn psyche when it appears he is only training for a few months. In my opinion, this is the worst adaptation crime this film commits, so it could be worse. The side story involving Ender’s siblings is also more or less non-existent, but I understand why it was cut. It’s not all that important to what’s going on with Ender, and centers around blogging – a concept that was not even thought about yet in 1985, but rather mundane in today’s world. It would have probably left most audience members confused, so I’m alright with that being left out.
Judging the film on its own, it’s solid most of the way through. The middle feels a little rushed and light. I would have liked to see more of Ender’s relationships with his fellow recruits grow as he did, and see his skill progress in the Battle Room – a place that he seems to spend remarkably few hours in, despite it being pretty much the most important thing in the world of the recruits. The film regains its footing as it nears the end, though, and Butterfield delivers some stellar performances.
The film looks great and does a tremendous job of giving us technology that feels believable, yet fantastic. Much credit is due Card’s imagination in that department – after all, he more or less invented the iPad in his book. It wasn’t that difficult to ensure his ideas did not seem dated. That said, the special effects and futuristic technology look great, though having seeing Gravity, the zero G scenes fall a bit short.
It’s still a pretty great science fiction tale that doesn’t rely so much on spectacle for a change, and that is always welcome. The book is a thought provoking examination of many issues pertaining to the moralities war and psychological manipulation. While the film does not delve quite as deep into these issues (let’s face it, would it be that interesting on screen?) it still invokes many of the same themes and questions. The ending leaves things wide open to adapting the sequels, but it would work on it’s own as well if need be. Personally, I would love to see more of Ender Wiggin.
My rating: Four out of five hats
Mrs. Hamster says:
“They missed a little of the psychology of Ender, but as book to movie adaptations go, it was pretty good.”
Ender’s Game opens in 3,407 theaters, including IMAX on November 1