The Rundown: An intriguing adaptation of Orson Scott Card's famous novel about a young boy tasked with leading the human race victory against an unknowable alien race. This adaptation is a great sci-fi film in its own right, even if it does brush by some things that will disappoint hardcore fans of the series. I would recommend catching this movie in theaters while it's there, it has amazing effects and is a real treat for the eyes; all the while delivering a compelling and deep narrative for fans and newbies alike.
I was a bit skeptical walking into the theater for Ender's Game. While I had been anticipating the film for some time, I couldn't help but recall all the horrible movie adaptations that have been coming out recently. So I went in hoping for at least a decent viewing experience if nothing else. What was delivered met those expectations and then some.
For those unfamiliar with the books, Ender's Game is about a young boy named Ender Wiggin, who is a prodigy in the militaristic society he has been brought up in. A brilliant tactical mind, as well as empathetic, he is under a lot of pressure to become humanity's next great leader in the ongoing fight against the violent race of bug-like aliens called the Formics, or 'Buggers' as they are commonly called. The film chronicles the challenges he faces and the people he meets during his training to become this leader.
For hardcore fans of the book, I can see this movie being slightly disappointing, but that's only if you require every single thing of importance to the series to be encapsulated within this single two-hour movie. I find this to be unrealistic, and I think the story of Ender as he rises through the ranks of battle school, and the challenges he faces as a result, is well told. The story has great pacing and some notable character moments for Ender himself, especially during the climax of the film. One of the disappointing things is while we get decent glimpses into Ender's personality, and how he reacts to those around him, we really get very little in the way of auxiliary characters.
The supporting character who gets the most development is Ender's sister, played by Abigail Breslin (boy is she growing up). This definitely takes the varied and complex story of the book and dumbs it down to a story with a single perspective: that of Ender and his journey through battle school and beyond. This in itself wouldn't be a great weakness, except that one of Ender's challenges is overcoming duel expectations caused by his two older siblings, Valentine and Peter, both of whom were dropped from the same program Ender is a part of. Valentine was too empathetic, and Peter too violent, and this duel within Ender of both those potentials had the possibility (or potential "hurd-d-hur") to be a great subplot to the movie; however, since Valentine is the only character who gets any real screen time, we don't really get a good idea of who Peter is, or his tendencies.
Despite the lack of focus on auxiliary characters, one thing that I really got from the movie was the feel of the world that Ender lives in. All the tech and vehicles they use are at once familiar, yet futuristic, and the scenes at battle school play almost exactly as I remember from the book. The feel of battle school, and the militaristic society they live in, is well exemplified in the behaviors of both Ender and his classmates. The trappings of the movie definitely have a great, almost classic, sci-fi feel, which is fitting for one of the staples of sci-fi literature.
Though it is as immensely entertaining and thought-provoking as the book it is based on, Ender's Game is not without its faults. My biggest gripes come from things that you would only really notice as someone more familiar with Ender's character and the source material; chief of which is Ender's skill as a master tactician. Most of the novel, in fact, is about the various tactical means that Ender uses to get through his training against opponents more experienced than he is. During the fight scenes, with the exception of one, very little focus is put on how Ender is achieving his victories, instead focusing on the flashy lights of lasers, and the wonderful vista of outer space that can be seen outside of the battle room. This oversight takes away a lot of insight that could have helped tie his strategies together in the final confrontation. Instead these scenes just seem to be there to placate the star wars fans who need flashy laser battles to be satisfied on the quality of a sci-fi movie.
The other thing that really disappointed me about the movie is that they telegraph the big reveal fairly obviously from about 30-45 minutes before it actually happens. The ending of the original novel is extremely powerful, and a lot of that power comes from not being able to see it coming until it hits you right in the face. The movie does a very poor job of guarding its secrets, being way more transparent about the military's motivations than needed. This ability to quickly deduce the end result before Ender himself does, makes it harder to empathize with him during the most emotional scene in the movie, though executed flawlessly by Asa Butterfield.
Ender's Game is a great movie, even if it isn't the flawless adaptation some people would like it to be. Though the supporting cast does not get a lot of screen time, they still embody the characters from the book very well. The story they tell is at once flashy and action-packed, while also thought provoking, examining the nature of war and the concept of the preemptive strike. With those overarching themes in place, the movie still retains its core of being about a single boy and the trials he must go through as he tries to figure out the world and the place he's been told he must inhabit because of his extraordinary abilities.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this movie to any fan of science fiction, and to anyone with fond memories of the novel. For the hardcore fan, I'd say go in with low expectations and you may find yourself surprised.
Jeffrey Roth, is an award winning animator, all around badass, and is now writing for your amusement. When not wrestling with the mysteries of the universe, he is watching anything and everything and having opinions on it. ALL THE OPINIONS.