Ender’s Game is based on a novella turned novel by, now controversial writer, Orson Scott Card. This book spawned a massive series that includes 14 published novels, with two more to go plus several short stories and graphic novels. Now, I don’t know about you but I’ve actually read some of these books. In fact, I’ve read five of them and am half way through another. With that in mind, I’m going to go into this review from two mindsets, that of someone who has not read the original novel and that of someone who has. The spoilers will come in the latter portion, after the image. So, let’s begin.
Off the bat, Ender’s Game is a unique movie because the primary characters are children, all played by relatively unknown and new actors. In fact, the two major celebrity roles (Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley) are primarily facilitator characters and not the ones we as an audience want to get to know and truly care about by the end. So, not knowing the primary actors, I went into this film with some hesitation. It was very possibly that these kids would not be able to carry this film but I was wrong. Especially where it pertains to Asa Butterfield (Andrew Ender Wiggin), Hailee Steinfeld (Petra Arkanian) and Aramis Knight (Bean). These three kids carry the weight of the film and story and they do a fantastic job. I definitely feel the chemistry between these characters and truly believe they care about one another until the very end.
The special effects were quite impressive, as well. While the film was not made available in 3D (a rare but not disappointing actuality), the CGI detail was remarkable. Keep in mind that the vast majority of this film takes place off Earth either on the Battle School space station or somewhere more distant. The Battle School’s Battle Room is remarkable. The graphics generated a realistic but fantastical field of battle that I honestly wish they had spent more time focusing on. The spaceship detail was also spectacular. Overall, impressive special effects and attention to detail.
The story is solid but a little thin. Keeping in mind that the film is just under two hours (114 minutes) and they cover a lot of ground. Much of Ender’s backstory is glossed over and even his rise to significance in the film is rushed for sake of time. I’ll go into more detail here during the “if you’ve read the book section” later. With all of this said, it’s a fun ride. The movie is exciting, the characters interesting and the outcome unique. If I have any negative feedback for the film it would be that while they set it up for a sequel, they clearly didn’t have enough confidence in the first film to fully flush out the story. Overall, if you haven’t read the book(s), it’s a solid science fiction film that I believe you will enjoy. And hey, at least you get Harrison Ford in space again, right?
Find the official site for the film here – Ender’s Game
The original book focuses on two primary stories, that of Ender’s rise to Command and that of his siblings pulling the political strings back home under cover of two philosophical figures, Locke and Demosthenes. While the movie obviously follows Ender’s story, it completely leaves out the political struggles back home and the relationship between Valentine and Peter (Ender’s older sister and brother, respectively). Yes, we do meet his siblings but Peter is barely in the movie at all. This concerns me because I don’t know where they intend to take the series from a film perspective. It would be very difficult to follow Peter’s rise to Hegemon in the Shawdow series now that we know nothing about him or his efforts for political rebellion. Additionally, I’m not sure where Valentine fits in to a sequel but I’ll come back to this in a bit.
Yes, the movie focuses on Ender’s rise to Command but it also glosses over so much just do to time constraints. This goes back to my point about lack of confidence. I believe that while the studio clearly backed the film with an estimated budget of $110 million, they were unsure how to market the movie and if it would be successful enough for a sequel and therefore, rather than split the book into two or three movies, they rushed out a single story. That doesn’t make this a bad movie though. In fact, I really liked it… a lot and plan to see it again in IMAX. But plot points like Ender’s strategic challenges in the Battle Room were whittled down to almost nothing. While they mention the famous line, “The Enemy’s Gate is Down”, we don’t really grasp the deep meaning and significance of the line unless you already know by reading the book. On top of that, the end of the movie tweaks some concepts, mostly for time’s sake. For example, rather than being on an asteroid, Command School is on a planet, and in this case, the same planet Ender finds the last remaining Formic queen on. Now, I don’t have a problem with this change because it doesn’t modify any of the meaning or significance, it’s just a time speed. But, once the battles are over and Ender learns the truth, we don’t get as much of his struggle as the book entails. Sure, he has a bit of a break down and Petra comes to his aid but it’s short, sweet and quickly moved on from.
What’s more concerning is the end of the movie. The film ends with Ender is cryo (waking up like in the preview) because he is on his mission to find the Formic queen a new home but the narration for Ender makes it sound like Valentine is not going with him, nor does it sound like Ender will be part of the colony program. Basically, if they were to make a sequel, they’ve written themselves out of the Shawdow of the Hegemon and Ender is Exile stories. I honestly don’t know where they would intend to go but the clearly leave it open for some kind of sequel.
Overall, it’s a solid representation of the book. It’s a film that stays true to the story and characters. In fact, the children were cast almost perfect! Ender, Bean, Petra and Bonzo were just fantastic casting choices! And it doesn’t bother me at all that they increased the age of the children to 10-12 instead of 6-8 to make it more believable. That’s why I like this movie. The changes that do exist were not meant to change the story or meaning, they were meant to enhance it and provide the best film experience possible for the story. I thank them for their efforts and applaud the outcome.