Release Date: November 1, 2013
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin
Director: Gavin Hood
Studio: OddLot Entertainment, et al.
Distributor: Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate
Genre(s): Science Fiction
Based On the book by Orson Scott Card
This is a terrible review. It’s not a terrible review for the movie. No, despite my misgivings and some disappointments, I really enjoyed it. If nothing else the film itself was absolutely breathtaking and I will be buying it on blu ray the second it gets released. No, this is a terrible review because I’m trying so hard to seem ‘professional’ while my feelings struggle to pull themselves together into something coherent.
I’m afraid I may have failed. But I won’t apologize for that. Ender’s Game is a boko that’s meant a lot to me for a very long time. I have been waiting for a film adaptation of Ender’s Game since I was in the sixth grade. That was when I first discovered Orson Scott Card’s book after seeing a poster of Jake Lloyd reading it in a hammock on my English teacher’s door. It has been my favorite book ever since. So when I heard that Gavin Hood was bringing the adaption to the big screen finally, I was thrilled. The more and more I heard about the project the and more hopefully optimistic I became. After all, the cast is absolutely flawless and the the crew behind the film were all self proclaimed fans of the book.
So where did they go wrong?
I’m not saying that that they went wrong entirely. I don’t want to say that this movie is bad right off the bat. Because it’s not. People going in with no expectations will find a solid, beautifully designed science fiction film whose cinematography will blow them away and a cast that nails each one of their roles perfectly. But life long fans of the series will probably be disappointed.
Usually I’m not a stickler when it comes to movie adaptations. I am very capable of separating the book from the film but with Ender’s Game… it’s hard. I have been such a huge fan of the book for so long that it was just too hard for me to watch the film without picking out all the inaccuracies and questioning why exactly they decided to make the changes they did instead of making others. Most of their choices actually didn’t bother me that much. I think that they could have done the mind game better and differently. And introducing Bean as one of Ender’s fellow launchies without giving any explanation of his background at all besides “I grew up on the streets – not worth a bean, you know?” was a bit disappointing though more than we got in the actual book, I suppose. So, for the most part, I was okay with the things they changed to help the story condense down a bit. (Though I’m still not sure why they changed the monitors from being put into every kid to being part of a military school system where losing your monitor meant you got kicked out… I don’t know. It really didn’t make sense.)
My real problems came with the pacing and the interpersonal relationships between the characters in the film. Unlike the book which spans about six years, the movie spans an extremely short and unspecified time. The only record of time we see is a computer console at some point while Ender is still a launchie that reads “28 DAYS” so…. in theory the whole film takes place over the span of only a month? That may seem ridiculous except they speed through the entire plot as if that was very much the case. Seriously – if feels like a week or so at most passes between Ender being assigned to Bonzo’s army and his taking command of Dragon Army.
The character relationships consequently suffer from that sped up timeframe. Ender wins over his launch group very quickly with a simple taunting of Bernard. His special greeting with Alai is maintained but the relationship never really developed much. You never see him getting to know his toon leaders or learn to trust them. When they come into Dragon Army everyone just seems to fall into place despite never really setting up those relationships. Most of the characters are left out all together with his command team at the end consisting of only Petra, Bean, Dink, Alai, and Bernard. The only relationships they develop at all is his relationship with Petra and, I suppose, his relationship with Bonzo. And, oddly, Bernard in a way but not the same way he does in the book.
I also had issues with the ending. They removed all the politics from the film entirely – including the Locke and Demosthenes story in its entirety – and yet they still decided to inject their own political leanings into the climactic finale. Instead of letting the book’s ending speak for itself they made it largely about a thinly veiled message against preemptive strikes and the use of unmanned drones overseas. All of the raw emotion and deep philosophical questions from the book are condensed into a short shouting match between Graff and Ender and a rushed, unsatsifying ending.
I don’t want to give away too much of the story for those who haven’t read the book. I will say, though, that while I was disappointed in a lot of things, I did enjoy the movie.
The Battle Room scenes were everything I could have hoped for and more. I just wish we had spent more time in Battle School developing relations with added scenes – such as Ender leading launchies in training exercises which was sadly cut from the movie – to really drive home just how awesome Battle School was and how awesome they made the Battle Room look. The final battle was a bit anticlimactic and at the very end all I’m going to say is that the International Fleet must be hiring nothing but idiots if Ender was able to find what he found still tucked away after twenty-seven years JUST A FEW YARDS FROM THE BASE TARMAC. Seriously.
Gavin Hood at least hires nothing but the best.
Harrison Ford was PERFECT as Graff and I seriously just wanted him to get with Viola Davis’s Major Anderson. Hailee Steinfeld was a perfect Petra and the rest of the child actors – particularly the kids they had playing Bean and Bernard – were great. Moise Arias left behind his Disney (or was he on Nickelodian?) days to give us a fantastic Bonzo while Abigail Breslin gave a pretty decent portrayal of Ender’s sister Valentine. Sadly her and Peter’s entire story archs were cut from the movies as a whole leaving her character sort of flat. Still, if there is one major strength to this film it’s the cast. Especial Ben Kingsley. But let’s be real. When his he not perfect?
And Asa Butterfiled. This kid was the perfect Ender Wiggin. It doesn’t matter that he was aged up a bit – that didn’t effect the story. If they hadn’t, we would have missed out on a fantastic portrayal. It would have even been better if they had stuck with the full gravity of the original book instead of tiptoeing around the psychological and philosophical questions. I have no doubt that Asa Butterfield would have blown us away if he were given that opportunity.
If left to my own designs, I could rant for days about this movie pointing out what’s good and bad about it and how it could have been a million times better if they had just tacked on fifteen more minutes of character development to develop relationships during the Battle School days. But I’ll let you all go out and see the film for yourself instead. Then you can come back and we’ll have a spoilerific discussion in the comments, yeah? Seriously though. Come back. Comment. I need to sort out my feelings.
Final Thoughts: —
Gavin Hood’s adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s science fiction epic manages to hit a lot of the book’s key points but loses a lot of the power and impactfulness of the story with it’s various changes and liberties. Ender’s psychological battles are largely lost and the final lesson from the book seems to be struck out entirely in favor of some thinly veiled criticisms on pre-emptive strikes and unmanned drones. Long time fans of the book may not enjoy it but over all it’s