“Ender’s Game” Adaptation is a Success!

Ender's Game Image from Hollywood Reporter

Sorry for the long wait since my last post. Things have been pretty busy these past few weeks. I did, however, manage to get to the theater and see Ender’s Game, the film adaptation of one of the classics of American sci-fi.

That a film like this was even made is something of a miracle, as efforts to make an Ender’s Game movie a reality have been ongoing for my whole life. When the novel was published in 1985, people almost immediately proposed turning it into a movie. However, project after project fell apart in pre-production due to the novel’s writer, Orson Scott Card, micromanaging the script writing process. Eventually, Card was able to give his baby into the hands of Gavin Hood, an actor in numerous films and TV shows (Stargate SG-1, A Reasonable Man) who has also directed such movies as Tsotsi, Rendition, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Hood both wrote and directed this film, and even was a voice-actor for a very minor role. At the very end of the film’s credits, there is a dedication to Hood’s parents, which tells me this movie was a personal, passion project for him.

Indeed, the direction Hood took with this film is also very personal – it focuses almost completely on the titular hero, Ender Wiggin, played by British teenage actor Asa Butterfield (Hugo, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas), and his complicated relationship with his commanding officer, Col. Graff (Harrison Ford). Fans of the novel may be disappointed that some of the world-building and political-intrigue elements of the novel are gone, as may be one or two of their favorite scenes. In the end, though, this is to the film’s benefit, not its detriment. By keeping the film tight and focused, it is able to dedicate all of its effort in building a believable, well-rounded character and his struggles and triumphs. It absolutely excels at this, making its hero someone that the audience can relate to and wants to cheer on.

For those who don’t know the story, Ender’s Game is set in a future where the Earth had narrowly survived an attack by a race of insect-like aliens known as the Formics, and now the International Fleet, a military force dedicated to defending the planet from any future Formic attack, actively trains young boys and girls from around the world in a three-tier program to create a super-elite, dedicated officer corps of military geniuses. Ender, the third child of a Polish immigrant living in America, is also the third of his siblings to be enrolled in the program. The failures of his older brother and sister to qualify for promotion into the second tier haunts him, and he is absolutely dedicated to proving himself to his superiors. Ender is nerdy, introverted, and a bit of a loner, but he has a brilliant mind for tactics and strategy that impresses Col. Graff, who begins to push Ender harder and harder in his training and to pull strings to put Ender on the fast-track to success.

The film has two main running themes that complement each other beautifully. The first has to do with bullying, the favorite pastime of many a high-school age boy. Probably most people in the audience have been picked on at one point or another growing up, and can therefore feel Ender’s pain as he is picked on by his peers. Throughout the movie, Ender stands up to his own bullies, as well as those who bully other kids, making the viewer sympathize with and root for him.

However, in standing up for himself and others, Ender discovers to his horror that he is capable of incredible acts of violence. This darker side of him scares him, makes him nervous, and gives him self-doubt. He begins to question if he truly is worthy of Col. Graff’s special treatment, and becomes fearful of what he would do in actual combat against the Formics. This grappling with one’s own capacity for aggression and violence is the second running theme of the movie, and is by far its strongest point. The film handles this theme with care and doesn’t go overboard with it – after all, it wants us to keep liking Ender and keep rooting for him, so when he does lash out we feel Ender’s shock and anxiety.

The filmmakers definitely deserve plenty of credit for their casting choices. These twin themes are not easy to pull off, let alone by a cast filled with a bunch of under-18 actors. This could easily have been an epic disaster.

We all know how bad...

We all know how bad…

...child actors can be.

…child actors can be.

Yet this particular cast works incredibly well, being completely believable in their roles as they react to the incredible things that are going on all around them. They even manage to do a surprisingly good job with the very weighty and emotional ending. (No, I’m not going to spoil it, but fans of the novel know exactly what I’m talking about.) They really deliver when it counts.

Ender's Game image from Enderverse

Having said all of that, the film does have some weak moments in the beginning. The biggest problem with anything sci-fi is exposition, as you have to explain your universe and its rules to the audience while not breaking the flow of the story. The movie really drops the ball with that one. Most of the early exposition scenes consist of Ender and/or other characters having stuff explained to them that they should already know by now, unless they lived under a rock their whole lives. Plus, the filmmakers’ CGI budget must have been blown in post-production, because they keep showing the same battle sequence from the first Formic invasion over and over and over again. Um, guys, weren’t there other battles with the invaders you could show us? Yes, the particular scene in question does become important later, but that doesn’t mean we have to re-watch it 800 times. Trust your audience to be able to piece two and two together, please.

Still, these are far from deal-breakers. This movie is an excellent adaptation, and an excellent sci-fi movie generally. It may be less than two hours long, but it is two well-spent hours that I highly recommend.

One Response to “Ender’s Game” Adaptation is a Success!

  1. Aaron Bevan says:

    Many of my FaceBook friends are reviewing and writing about this movie too. Must be a good movie. The commercials advertising it are very intriguing as well. I did not read the book. Thanks for bloggin’ brother! Ab

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