Ender Wiggin has taken his time to get to the big screen. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, was published in 1985 and has been “in development” ever since. It was nearly adapted into a movie in the late 80’s before hokey sci-fi movies starting failing at the box office. It was almost made a few times during the 90’s. There were even talks of Jake “Yipee” Lloyd taking the role of Ender. Thank goodness for small miracles. In 2004, directing responsibilities were given to Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm, The Neverending Story). Even then, it was put on the backburner for years and dropped once again. Two years ago, writer/director Gavin Hood (Xmen Origins: Wolverine, Tsotsi) was given the seemingly cursed production.
Card has called this an unfilmable movie because it spans 6 years and takes place largely in a young boy’s mind. It really is quite shocking that Ender’s Game is finally being released this weekend. But does it match up to the award winning sci-fi young adult classic?
Fifty years previous to the events in the film, there was an invasion of alien ants called Formics (or Buggers). We managed to win the war and scare them off, but the military has been paranoid of a second attack ever since. They recruit Ender Wiggin, a strategic young prodigy, to become the next great commander and find a way to stop any future attacks. He quickly rises above his fellow recruits in battle school and ends up playing a much larger role in the war than he wants to.
Adapting a book into a feature film means sacrifices will be made. Ender’s Game has more than its fair share. The biggest omission is the time spent in battle school. The book tells about Ender’s isolation and eventual rise to leadership in the zero gravity game. This development is meant to take place over the course of 4 years, but the movie tells the same story in a matter of two battle game scenes. Also missing is everything that happens at home while Ender is away at battle school. This makes sense because it may have been too complex for the film, but seeing the character progression of Ender’s brother and sister, Peter and Valentine, is one of the better storylines.
The main issue with Ender’s Game is how rushed it all feels. Yes, there’s a lot of story to pack in there, and Gavin Hood tries to make it all fit, but that means that each critical element will only be given a short time to develop. This means that Ender’s rage issues, the giant’s drink game, Valentine and the aforementioned zero gravity game is glimpsed but not fleshed out enough.
Let’s just say that I now know the underlying anger that Harry Potter fans felt when their favorite elements of that series were cut for time.
While Asa Butterfield is entirely too old to play Ender, he is an extremely capable actor who carries the entire movie on his shoulders. There is a moral conflict at the end of the story and Butterfield nails the sadness and feelings of betrayal. Harrison Ford plays Harrison Ford here. There’s nothing bad about his performance, just more of the same. His General Graff character personally recruits Ender and does everything he can to set Ender apart from the other recruits. He takes on the pressure to have Ender be ready for command before the Formics attack again. There is a minor character named Bonzo Madrid (Moises Arias) who constantly threatens Ender in battle school. While he isn’t given much time on screen, I felt his casting was perfect. He is the very definition of Napoleon complex. When you see the movie you’ll understand.
The real disappointment about Ender’s Game is that it never maintains greatness. It comes very close in the game scenes and the movie is definitely boosted by the emotional ending, but it only manages to be good. A different director could have emphasized certain aspects of the book and we may have had another successful teen fiction adaptation to the screen. Gavin Hood doesn’t have a particular style and this movie needed style. He makes adequate movies (except Wolverine), but this movie needed something more than adequate. In all seriousness, this movie needed Peter Jackson. His overly long movies are seen as a joke now, but this adaptation could have been split into two movies and it would be stronger for it. In a year of movies that tested our patience with running time, I wish Ender’s Game could have been 20 minutes longer to fit more in.
Ender’s Game is the ‘John Carter’ of the young adult fiction world. It was the forefather to Harry Potter and Hunger Games, much like The Princess of Mars was the inspiration for Star Wars and nearly every sci-fi movie ever made. But, like John Carter, there is ironically nothing new shown in Ender’s Game. We’ve seen his struggle told countless times now in more entertaining fashions. It’s too little, too late for Ender to be a hit.
I enjoyed Ender’s Game, but I can’t bring myself to love it. Besides removing subplots and rushing the story, they actually did tell the story without adding dumb characters and unnecessary plot points. It was a faithful, yet hollow, adaptation of the book. I can’t recommend spending 10 dollars to see this, but it’s definitely worth renting.