Ender’s Game, based on the bestselling novel and beloved sci-fi classic by Orson Scott Card, has opened in theaters this weekend. The novel has won multiple awards and is even recommended reading for the United States Marine Corps.
Before anymore is said, let it be immediately understood that this movie adaptation, like most, is far inferior to the book. It is not judged on changes and interpretations that were benign or necessary for the transition from page to screen, such as the older actors chosen to play the novel’s child soldiers. After all, where are you going to find actual 4 to 10 year olds who can convincingly capture the needed angst, social and moral maturity, genius, and overall serious subject matter?
Several flaws, however, cannot be overlooked. The film likes to tell the audience of Ender Wiggin’s genius, but rarely shows us just how overwhelmingly more intelligent and advanced his intellect is. The audience fails to appreciate the depth of his character without this glimpse into his thinking that the book so effectively executed. Running time, and the management of it, is an enormous problem for this movie. The piece should have been longer, to allow for clearer plot explanation and further development of Valentine, Ender, and especially Peter’s characters, as well as the political situation on Earth; the failure of the film to delve into the genius of the other Wiggin children, and their roles as Locke and Demosthenes, is very disappointing. The film’s tendency to rush through certain scenes and transition abruptly, most ridiculously in the ending, leaves past readers feeling cut off and new audiences totally confused. To accommodate a PG-13 rating, the movie horribly censors Ender’s fights with Stilson and Bonzo Madrid, as well as wasting valuable screen time to hint at an Ender-Petra romance. A highly-anticipated adaptation, whose award-winning novel has garnered a massive following since its release in 1985, does not need to stoop so low. Instead of watering down mature, thought-provoking core content, get rid of all the cheese, make the movie rated R, and make it longer.
That said, Ender’s Game the movie has its moments. Asa Butterfield exceeds expectations as Ender, not an easy character to play. Harrison Ford’s Colonel Graff gushes a little too much over his prize pick, but still does a decent job. The surveillance and removal of Ender’s monitor works excellently to show the audience what being a Third is like. The International Fleet “simulations” and the final battle on the Bugger home-planet are exciting and portray well Ender’s strategic abilities. What the movie does best though, is the Battle Room. The games and the arena itself are fantastically translated from the book into live action and background.
Overall, the futuristic setting of the story, both on Earth and in the space stations, is wonderfully rendered, and it is these visuals that make Ender’s Game a movie worth watching for fans of the novel. If you have read the book, you should not expect much of the novel’s substance from the movie. If you have not read the book, you really should because it is one of the greatest sci-fi stories ever written, and you otherwise should have just watched Captain Phillips instead.