“Terrigood”: not awful, but not fantastic either. To be honest, it might be a bit of a low rating for this particular film, but you’ll be able to see my final score soon.
Ender’s Game is based on the critically acclaimed novel by Orson Scott Card. It’s very dear to me. If you’ve read my “COUNTDOWN” piece on it, you already know that. You also probably know, if you’ve read the piece, that I was excited for the film’s release, going over certain things to look for if the movie was, in fact, good. We’ll go over that in a bit, but let’s get to the plot.
In this adaptation, the Formics, an alien race from a world far off, attacked Earth and nearly annihilated the entire human race. They were defeated by the famed hero, Mazer Rackham, in a seemingly lucky fashion. Afterward, Earth’s military spent decades preparing for another invasion. Children were trained to become cold, ruthless tacticians in an effort to find one who stood out, one who could lead the rest, another Mazer Rackham.
So, the premise is pretty good. But how does the film hold up? Well, I have to be honest, I’m really surprised it wasn’t a colossal failure. Given the subject matter dealt with in the novel, and the length of time over which the tale takes place, I expected it to be awful, rushed, and heartless, having little to none of the novel’s soul. I was sort of right, but not entirely.
The first half of Ender’s Game is painfully rushed, since so much has to be covered to spend more time on the story’s climax. With all the hard cuts and lack of character development, I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy anything the film had to offer. But, as it carried on, more time was spent on certain sections, performances improved, and the direction went from being choppy to fairly competent. Even so, the flaws were present, and they detracted from my viewing experience quite a bit. Personally, I still think this should’ve been an HBO miniseries or something. The only real problem I had with the movie, overall, was the pace, the editing, the development, the cuts, the loss of key elements and important scenes, all timerelated problems, or rather length related, most of which occurred only in the first half. Even if I hadn’t read the book, these would still be noticeable. There are things that would’ve improved the quality of the work significantly had they been lengthened just a little, had they been slowed down some. Again, this all has to do with condensing an epic story, over three hundred pages long, into a ninety minute motion picture. More time was needed to make this work better.
Visually, Ender’s Game is stunning. The film’s simulation section is filled with intense, detailed action, and the games are captured perfectly, albeit more colorful than I pictured them while reading the book. So, if all you’re looking for is a badass action flick in space with great special effects, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re looking for steak to go with that sizzle, consider what I’ve already said regarding the story and its telling.
Okay, beware of spoilers from here on out. Just scroll down to the “FINAL VERDICT” section to see my score, if you don’t want any twists ruined.
I will now begin an analysis of what I said should be in Ender’s Game, versus what we got:
- FOCUS ON CHARACTER PSYCHOLOGY: somewhat good.
- ATTENTION TO DETAIL SCIENTIFICALLY: good.
- DEMOSTHENES AND LOCKE: nonexistent.
- SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD: vaguely existent, but still there.
I realize how annoying it can be, constantly comparing an adaptation to its source material, but I can’t help doing it, especially when dealing with this kind of work. I want to make this as brief as possible, so we’ll go through these point by point.
Firstly, the character psychology is, for the most part, handled well. Ender and Colonel Graff are well written and well played (by Asa Butterfield and Harrison Ford), each having good dialogue to work with, and even some good silent moments. Their best scene together, probably the best scene in the movie, is their debate over the decision to wipe out the Formics at the end. I was genuinely impressed by that part, so much so that it actually, by itself, added a point to my score. It’s the only scene that I felt fully realized Ender’s thoughts and ideas, his persona, him. It did the same for Graff, causing me to hate and love him, just as it was meant to.
Though Anderson is a man in the book, Viola Davis plays the character very well. She had much of my sympathy, in fact, as she was rendered powerless by the end, almost more than she was in the novel.
Now, the problems start to come in with the rest of the supporting cast. That’s not to say they’re bad, but with what little screen time they’re given, they don’t shine as much as they should. Bean, one of the story’s most important characters, is reduced to being somewhat minor, and not nearly as intelligent as he was in the book. Petra being made into a quasi-lover for Ender is very awkward, at least to me, and shouldn’t have even been forced into the film. Bonzo was miscast, plain and simple. I love Moisés Arias, but he needed to more of a physical threat to Ender. Lastly, the worst butchering of a character was probably Peter, Ender’s brother. If you’ve read the book, you know that Peter is the anchor on which everything in the story is bound. Every action Ender makes, until the end, is an effort to not be like Peter, and every action Peter makes is an effort, not to be better than Ender, but simply better. In the movie, he isn’t ruined by bad acting, rather by the fact that he’s only in ONE SCENE, for less than five minutes. It’s probably the most disappointing thing about the adaptation, period.
Scientifically, technology is discussed and analyzed well. It’s not as precise as the book, but still good work. This was the least of my concerns, but I’m glad it was addressed.
Demosthenes and Locke are completely removed from the movie. This was expected, but is still very disappointing. Like Peter, Valentine plays a much bigger role in the novel, changing the world alongside the brother she hates and love simultaneously via the internet. It’s an extraordinary bit of character development that would’ve added much needed depth to the film.
Finally, the Speakers. This isn’t really addressed in the movie, but homage is paid to it through the use of Mazer Rackham’s tattoos, which “speak for the dead” in a way. It’s kind of nice, but obviously not as good as the creation of the Speakers, giving Ender and Peter the redemption they deserved and needed. The egg was good, but there should’ve been at least something about the Speakers.
On a side note, the queen, to me, was unnecessary. It was well done, but sort of damages any potential for sequels being made (not that I’d want them to try too hard to do that).
FINAL VERDICT: Even with all these flaws, I found myself enjoy Ender’s Game quite a bit, namely the second, less rushed half. It could’ve been a classic had it been a miniseries, or perhaps a three hour epic, but considering what resources were available and how hard it was to get the movie financed, they did a good job. From me, Gavin Hood’s film gets a 7/10.
All right, that’s everything! Go see the movie, form your own opinion, and tell us about it! Until next time, this is Dylan Alexander wishing you a happy NaNoWriMo.
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