Originally posted on 2013.11.03
“Ender’s Game” is a book that has been touted for many years as an “unfilmable” property. With all its nuances, intricacies and character development, that may very well be the case. However, if Gavin Hood’s adaptation of the sci-fi classic doesn’t prove that notion wrong, it comes pretty damn close.
Based on the 1985 book written by Orson Scott Card, the story revolves around a boy named Andrew Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) – Or Ender as his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) and others call him – who is being groomed to ultimately command Earth’s forces against an alien race named the Formics, who invaded the planet 50 years prior. Ender is accepted into the international military complexes Battle School, which is ran by Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and his subordinate Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis). These child soldiers are trained in warfare and strategy, which they then use in 0 gravity Battle Games. Throughout his stint in Battle School, Ender rises through the ranks and befriends allies such as Alai (Suraj Partha), Bean (Aramis Knight) and Petra (Hailee Steinfeld) while making enemies, such as his former commander Bonzo (Moises Arias). He and his allies eventually move on to Command School, where Ender meets Mazer Rackham (Sir Ben Kingsley); the commander who was long thought dead when he defeated the Formics.
The movie succeeds in bringing much of the book to life. Hood presents many of the themes that made the book popular, such as the creation of child soldiers and training using video games, very well. Hood does the source material justice, even using his own experience as a young soldier (he was drafted into the South African military at 17) to properly communicate the emotions and psychological issues going through these characters heads. He successfully portrays the conflicted feeling you have when cheering for Ender as he goes through his adversities while finding the concept of these kids being bred for war appalling. He also keeps the key parts of the story intact, even exceeding the expectations many had for the Battle Game scenes. Even the story’s climax is left untouched for the most part, which I was hoping for due to its jarring nature.
The performances from a talented cast added the depth and sophistication the movie needed in order to be successful. Butterfield was phenomenal as Ender, bringing the intricate and complex emotional and psychological components to the character. Despite my reservations of Harrison Ford’s casting as Col. Graff (due to his age), he was perfect as the commodore of the Battle School. The female trio of Davis, Breslin and Steinfeld were solid performances, bringing the necessary counterbalance Ender needed in his life of being trained as a cold and calculating military leader. Even the other actors bring the required depth and firm understanding of their characters to bring them to life.
As a fan of the book, it is difficult to be objective of the movie without comparing it to the source material. The major issues I had with the movie – which I am sure is due to Hood needing to edit the film to its 114 minute time frame – was that major chunks of plot development was either edited out or omitted all together. The movie felt choppy at times when they removed these parts, leaving only the bare necessities of the story. In the attempt to portray a sense of urgency, the story instead felt unnecessarily rushed. It also completely omitted the secondary storyline involving Ender’s sister Valentine and his eldest brother Peter (Jimmy ‘Jax’ Pinchak) which opens up the opportunity of other potential spin-off storyline from the books. It also was disappointing to see that they pulled punches when it came to two key factors in Ender’s character development, which help define him in the end. They even change the very end slightly; a decision I find will muddy a major plot point in potential sequels. To those who have not ready the book, these may seem minor issues, but I feel these omissions could have made this adaptation better.
Overall, it is a great movie that makes you think about how and what we teach our children, as well as other themes surrounding war. As an adaptation it does source material justice despite the removal of major parts. My only hope is that there is enough material filmed to make an extended cut version of this movie.
The Private gives Ender’s Game 3.25 out of 5 COSMIC AFROS.