Ender’s Game is a story of desperation, of war, of man’s inhumanity/humanity towards his fellow man, and a story of the basest desire to remain alive. All this is captured through the eyes of Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggin’. And now it is subsequently capture through the eyes of director Gavin Hood. What we receive on the opposite end is a film that is extremely visually engaging, and tells the story in a manner that’s easy for the public audience to follow and enjoy.
I first read Ender’s Game back in middle school and really liked it. It was fun, there was always something exciting happening with Ender and his jeesh, and it was about smart people. Since then I’ve re-read it several times and most of the sequels and spinoffs. While lately I can’t help but get the impression Card is milking his cash cow, the truth is I’ve really enjoyed all the books and have loved reading about the characters I met in school, and watching them grow up as I grew up. Naturally, I was quite excited to see the movie, especially after the first trailer.
Visually, the movie is a stunning marvel. Everything looks more incredible than I could have imagined. Battle School looks great, the Battle Room took my breath away. Eros (the Formic colony) looks very alien. Even Earth looks great (the scene with Valentine and the raft is gorgeous). The ships in the Command School simulator look real. The Formic ships fighting the human jets during the footage of the First Invasion look perfect. If you like shiny eye candy, this movie is for you. Seriously, I can’t understate how great the movie looks.
The cast does a very good job. Asa Butterfield’s performance as Ender should get an Oscar nod. Harrison Ford does a great job as Hyrum Graff, totally nailing the character. Hailee Steinfeld does a good job as (a much kinder than in the books) Petra. Abigail Breslin feels underutilized as Ender’s sister Valentine, but she does plays the role well, like she usually does. The rest of the cast also do well, but there really isn’t time in the movie for them to shine. It focuses on Ender (naturally), Graff and Petra.
Looking a bit deeper at Butterfield’s performance, he has it down. He manages understand Ender and what makes him tick. Aggressive, intelligent, and most importantly, Ender plays to win. Not just the first fight, but all of them. He’s a not really a happy character, even before Battle School. A serious, scary kid. Very much a product of his time and setting. I suppose with the constant threat of extinction, it’s hard to maintain levity. In the movie he looks about fourteen, maybe Freshman. What’s scary about the book is that he’s six.
The biggest problem is time. Trying to condense a packed 325 page book into two hours is no easy task, and they do a pretty good job of it. But the movie does feel fast because of it. First he’s a Launchy, then a week later he’s in an army, then after a battle or two he leads his own. The after one battle he’s off to Command. There’s never really any time for him to grow or make mistakes. This could be due to my familiarity with the book where there are such scenes that go a long way to expand not just Ender, but the whole cast. Dink’s scenes were virtually entirely cut, despite his huge influence on Ender. There’s no time for training sequences, Bean’s secret toon, or the general animosity of the whole school towards Ender during his time as Dragon Commander.
So yes, knowledge of the book does help to fill in a bunch of the gaps, but if you haven’t seen the movie, don’t worry. It’s easy to follow and the movie does a good job of explaining the background of the First Invasion. It just might seem that he’s rushed through the process over a couple months, whereas in the book it’s a few years.
If you like good science fiction movies, it’s easy to recommend Ender’s Game. It’s a fun movie, visually stunning with some terrific performances from some very talented actors. Fans of the book may be disappointed by what didn’t make the cut, but it’s a solid movie. Will there be a sequel? There’s certainly material for it. Perhaps. But if not, Ender’s Game is still a very good and enjoyable movie. We need good Science Fiction films like this and Pacific Rim. We really do.