Ender’s Game Review
Out of all the Mormon fiction writers, Orson Scott Card is the most popular – second to only Stephanie Meyer of Twilight fame. Among his works, the most famous is Ender’s Game, an award-winning science fiction war novel published in 1985. After the book gained much popularity and praise, Card began to work valiantly to adapt it to film, but official development did not start until 2010 once Gavin Hood was attached as the writer and director. Now that Card’s beloved novel has been realized on the big screen, has his vision of a militarized future been brought to poignant, vibrant life?
In 2086, humanity is attacked by an alien species known as the Formics, or Buggers. The invasion results in the deaths of millions on both sides, until a legendary commander named Mazer Rackham sacrifices himself in a climactic battle. 50 years pass, and the International Fleet is training children to be the next generation of military commanders in case of a second Bugger invasion. One such child is Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a prodigy that is often bullied. Soon high-ranking officer Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) visits his home and offers him a chance to be trained at the Battle School in Earth’s orbit. Ender is convinced, and from there he begins a journey to become one of the next potential commanding officers for the International Fleet.
Here is a slight disclaimer for this review: I am an ardent fan of Orson Scott Card’s novel, so there will undoubtedly be some slight bias with my opinion on this film. Even so, I will do my best to be objective. Now, the main problem with Ender’s Game is ironically its pace. While the film moves along briskly and remains entertaining throughout, the fact of the matter is that the material of the novel is too big to fit into a 2-hour time frame. Thus, much of the story feels rushed and dispassionate – everything moves so quickly that the filmmaker’s chances to explore many subtleties from the source material are squandered. As a whole Ender’s Game lacks the poignancy that the source material had – not to mention the rushed ending. While this a problem that most novel adaptations face to begin with, it’s especially complacent here.
Even so, fans of the novel will be pleased that Gavin Hood’s adaptation is faithful to the novel, and so the film has a compelling story that most moviegoers can become invested in. Ender Wiggin is an interesting character that makes one consider society’s perception of the role children play in our world, while there are many other small details in Ender’s Game that play with this notion as well. Even if the film adaptation may be lacking in comparison to the book, Gavin Hood and his team still managed to craft an entertaining, thought-provoking and emotional tale that will please fans of the novel.
Asa Butterfield may be a little older than what is required for the part, but he is nonetheless a great fit for Ender. Maybe he over-emotes in some scenes, but he successfully portrays the character’s many emotional troubles and mental conflicts – Ender is arguably one of the darker child characters in fiction. I do have some issues with the other child actors here – Moises Arias has always annoyed me – but otherwise the cast here is great. Harrison Ford is a particular standout here, for the veteran actor returns to science fiction in a tough role that requires him to bring much of his trademark smugness while showing his character’s moral ambiguity. He is ultimately very effective here, while his screen partner Viola Davis also gives a solid performance. It was great to see Hailee Steinfeld once again after her three year absence since True Grit, and even if her work is not Oscar-worthy she proves that she deserves to stay in the limelight. Lastly, Abigail Breslin is notable as Ender’s sister Valentine, who does well to emphasize how key her character’s relationship to Ender is.
The visual effects are not the most impressive part of Ender’s Game, but they certainly work well enough. Even if the Battle Room is not in the film that much, it is well-realized and the games that take place in them are all filmed and choreographed well. Digital Domain received some controversy prior to the release of this film for its bankruptcy issues, but in the end they still produced effective visuals for Ender’s Game. The CGI is colorful if not perfect, and all of the training simulations are quite a marvel to watch unfold on screen. Gavin Hood’s camera sense factors into this as well, for he made sure that all of the key action sequences in the film are put together cohesively. Nearly all of the cinematography consists of steady panning shots, so there is no need to worry about dizziness or incomprehensible action scenes. Steve Jablonsky’s musical score is not quite as memorable – in fact it is quite generic – because for one thing it was not utilized well enough in some of the more emotionally climactic moments.
Despite my praise, I have to admit that Ender’s Game disappointed me to some degree. Of course I had expected that much of the development of these characters would be excised for the sake of crafting a concise story, but I still wish writer-director Gavin Hood could have found a way to handle this without simply rushing through plot points. Nonetheless, Ender’s Game is a successful science fiction film, and one that will please fans of Orson Scott Card’s original novel. Combining decent writing, good performances and solid special effects, this provocative anti-war film is a good time for people of all ages. Now I just wish that the version of the Battle Room – let alone the Battle School – could be made into a video game. That would be something to remember.