By Richard Reitzfeld
I find Ender’s Game somewhat difficult to review, as there are two distinct types of people who are interested in the film – those who have read the book and those that haven’t. The people in these two categories, in terms of the movie, will look for and notice very different things. Come to think of it, knowing that this dichotomy existed made watching the film difficult for me as well, as I was both trying to critically stack the film up to it’s literary counterpart, while simultaneously trying to gauge how someone unfamiliar with the subject matter might feel.
And it’s fitting that I felt this conflict while viewing, because unfortunately, Ender’s Game as a movie suffers from the exact same dilemma – that is, it’s unsure whether it’s trying to appeal to fans of the book or newcomers to the series, and consequently fails at both.
Let’s break it down.
Here’s what I’ll say Ender’s Game had going for it: Climax. Sweet, sweet climax. The final sequences of the film, and pretty much all of the other significant moments throughout were spectacularly put together – I couldn’t have imagined them better in my head from reading the book, and I’m sure seeing them put to film from someone unfamiliar with the story was awesome. Couple that with a great performance from Harrison Ford, whose presence is welcome in any film, especially a sci-fi space one. Unfortunately, that’s about all I can say this movie had going for it. It came close to greatness in a lot of ways, but ultimately failed.
The film itself felt just as, if not more, rushed than the BattleSchool’s effort to accelerate Ender’s experience – a process which takes place in well over a year in the book. which brings me to Ender himself. Let’s forget that the film version is twice the age of the original character. In this movie, the character of Ender undergoes NO DEVELOPMENT at all. Seriously. He is the exact same character at the end, even after supposedly having undergone months of intense training, psychological trauma – *spoiler alert* the kid freaking murdered someone, we’re left with the feeling that Ender could have done this on his own from the beginning. Essentially the entire battle school sequence is pointless, because Ender comes out the same way he went in.
Really, that should tell you all you need to know, but I’m not done. Let’s delve into just how bad the portrayal of battle school was. And at this point, I’m abandoning making a comparison to the book. On it’s own, the entire narrative arc of battle school lacks any sort of coherence. Ender is rushed through the process, he develops bonds that we don’t see form, he trains an army of nobodies to be the best in the history of battle school, and we see none of it. One line of dialogue explains that they’ve been training “hard” and are now the best. No.
Also, the characters of Ender’s siblings were entirely irrelevant in the film – which is fine, but just take them out of the movie. Don’t make a half-assed effort to throw them in because fans of the book will be confused if they aren’t referred to. Their entire side stories are forgotten, and even though they have essentially no screen time, we are somehow supposed to believe that they have a profound effect on Ender’s mental state. It’s a prime example of telling and not showing at its worst.
And finally – and this was maybe the most upsetting – one of the best characters in the series, Bean, was absolute trash in this movie. I mean, he basically wasn’t even a character. He was interchangeable with every other kid in terms of his on screen contribution, and yet somehow we are supposed to believe that he is the one to take over should Ender fail. Bean’s character is so awesome that Orson Scott Card wrote an entire series around him. His character also plays a huge role in Ender’s development. None of that was in the movie.
What we were left with was a half-assed attempt at including as much as possible from the book, while rushing through all relevant exposition just to get to and focus on moments of climax. From my lens attempting to be both a fan and first time viewer, I was supremely disappointed on both fronts.
- Starring: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford
- Directed by: Gavin Hood
- Running Time: 114 minutes
- Genre: Sci-fi, Action