I’ve already written a review of the book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and to be honest it is one of my most favorite books … EVER. I think that has to some extent colored my review of the movie which is perhaps unfortunate for those that haven’t read the book. For those of you that have read the book and watched the movie – I’d be very curious to hear whether your thoughts on the film mirrored my own.
The “Buggers” win!
I’ll start of by saying that for me, this movie is one that I have been waiting years for and perhaps because of this fact my expectations might have been a bit higher than the “average” movie goer. However with that being said, the overall consensus from others that I overheard at the end of Enders Game seems to match mine – and that consensus seems to be that they are disappointed.
I guess you could say that anyone who watches the movie the day before it officially premiers is by default a die-hard fan, and to some extent I do agree as based on some of the individuals that I saw at the theater … well lets just be kind and say that they fit the stereotype of a quintessential geek and nerd (not that there is anything wrong with that)!! While Ender’s Game tries to hit all of the high points of the book – the mind game, the MD Device etc… – it ignores completely or glosses over others in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience.
The biggest problem with Ender’s Game is not that its a bad movie … the issue is more along the lines that it is trying to appeal to everyone and by doing that its not really appealing to anyone! Fans will be disappointed, and to be honest non-fans and those new to the Enderverse will be confused as you need to read the book to really understand it.
The cast & story
In the not too distant future, Earth has been ravaged by an alien attack. The “buggers” or “Formics” are an insect like race that were only defeated by the actions of one individual – Mazer Rackham (played by Ben Kingsley). Mazer was able to detect a pattern in the attack of the Formic fleet and based on that pattern attack the one key ship directing the invasion. While Mazer saw this pattern, many other admirals and generals were unable to see the same thing and humanity came to quickly realize that the only way to survive a future invasion was by taking humanities best and brightest and educating them in war. The IF (International Fleet) was born.
Setting aside the internal strife and politics that had previously plagued humanity, the IF was formed to combat the Formic threat and to better protect humanity. Realizing quite quickly that the best generals and admirals for their needs were children – due to their ability to learn and assimilate information quickly – they set about creating an organization and structure that forced Earth’s best and brightest to provide them with their offspring for training.
Ender was specifically requested by the IF (International Fleet) as his sister (Valentine Wiggin played by Abigail Breslin) was too empathetic and soft and his older brother (Peter Wiggin played by Jimmy ‘Jax’ Pinchak) was too violent. IF felt that while both Valentine and Peter were brilliant, they just weren’t a right fit for what they were trying to and they wouldn’t make suitable commanders … a “third” Wiggin child however might combine the traits of the other siblings and be exactly what humanity needs.
Its at this stage that the movie actually starts – Ender as a young child in school plays and defeats another child in a simulation. Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) are monitoring Ender to see if he fits the model that they are attempting to achieve. Graff as the leader of Battle Shool determines that Ender is the “promised child” that he has been looking for and determines that they will accept him into the school.
I’ll skip over the whole buggers vs. astronauts game that Peter plays with Ender as while that’s in the book and serves to show Peter as a bully its not really relevant and is probably one of the parts that I would have cut! In addition, the scene where Ender fights and defeats his tormentor is something from the book, again this might be something that could have been addressed in the lead up vs. spending too much time onscreen on it.
Once Ender agrees to join Graff at Battle School he along with a group of “launchies” are blasted into space on their way to Battle School. One jarring note for me here is the introduction of Bean. For those that don’t know, Bean is a key character – and in fact in the Enderverse has several books of his own – however he doesn’t meet Ender in the shuttle, but rather later on as the story progresses. Unfortunately the whole interaction of Bean and Ender just doesn’t play right – for one thing the actor portraying him is too tall … while he’s shorter than the others, its not enough considering how he was portrayed in the book … and another, he’s simply not smart enough. We quickly learn that Ender is one of the smartest people on Earth – well for those of us in the know … Bean is smarter he just hides it!
Fight, Fight, Fight
Once on the shuttle, Graff quickly makes a point of demonstrating to the other launchies that Ender is the smartest one there, thereby serving to isolate him from the rest of his squad (again from the book & while I know Harrison Ford is not the best actor in the world, even he could have made it more believable!). Graff reiterates this point to Anderson once the shuttle docks at Battle School just to make sure that we all have received the message.
At Battle School Ender and the other launchies are quickly shown the game – this I have to admit was well done. Its not exactly how I envisioned it in my head, but they have transformed/created a very good looking piece that helped to train the young soldiers. Again however showing them this so soon after landing really felt like they’d missed out on so much more development – including Ender defeating some of the older boys at other simulations. The introduction of the Mind Game was also rushed as Ender does not attack the Giant after two failures, but rather after multiple, sustained failures and other stresses cause him to lash out. Here he is projected as a sadist which is not at all what his character is!
Ender moves on to Salamander army and is appropriately tormented for being the smallest there (except in the movie he’s not … Bonzo the commander of the army is smaller than Ender). Ender is given command of his own army (approx. 30min after joining Salamander again much too quickly) and his own soldiers to train. Ender’s training of his soldiers from the book and even the training Ender provided to the soldiers in other armies before he was given his own army is completely bypassed and skipped as is the respect that Ender earns from the other children (older and younger) aside from a salute from Sgt. Dap.
With regards to Ender and his army – it seems that they only fight one battle (when in reality Dragon army fights many to eventually dominate at Battle School) before Ender again confronts Bonzo and is shipped out to Command School.
I’ll stop here as while you might be interested in the battles at Command School and what happens to Ender, I’ll either let you read the book (or my review of the book) or watch the movie (would not recommend) to find that answer out. I would like to say that the only reason I was disappointed is that so much of what I was expecting and eagerly anticipating wasn’t there, but it really felt more like a hodge podge and a mess. I think that if they had perhaps cut and edited it better it might have been a better movie and one that I personally would have enjoyed significantly more. The only thing I can say is that if the Hobbit (one book) can be made into 3 separate movies, each 3+ hours long – they should have at least given this one movie 3 hours of screen time so that they could have given this amazing story the time it deserved.