by Andrew Link, for the Muleskinner
There’s always that guy on the way out of the theater who just has to bludgeon us with his obviously superior intelligence by pointing out that he thought the book was better. “Ender’s Game” has spent almost 30 years as a beloved, life-changing, mind-molding novel. For many, it’s already been elevated to the status of “classic.” It’s spawned a saga over a dozen books long, not to mention its ongoing short-story production. For once, that guy might actually have some insight that affects the rest of us.
As a fan of the book, I did the only thing an avid reader can do when seeing a movie based on a novel: I braced for the train wreck I was sure was about to happen. It didn’t come at the beginning. It wasn’t in the middle, either. Then, when the movie was over, I realized it hadn’t happened.
“Ender’s Game” was, much to my surprise, a fairly solid interpretation.
Don’t get me wrong. If you wanted to sit down and make a list of differences from the book series you’d need to slam a few energy drinks and free up your weekend. The problem with making “Ender’s Game” into a movie, as writer Orson Scott Card has explained countless times, is that so much of the novel happens in Ender’s head. Outside of having a cheesy narration monologue, they simply couldn’t figure out a way to do it.
It wasn’t until “Ender’s Shadow” got written five books later that producers got their answer. Even then, they kept trying to sneak in clauses that allowed them to make Ender a 16-year-old and give him a love interest to bring in the date crowds.
Thankfully, Card stuck to his guns and refused to sign off on any of those versions, finally giving his approval to producer Gavin Hood’s version. With “Ender’s Shadow” offering Bean’s perspective on the movie’s events, Hollywood suddenly had something they could pull off: the buddy movie.
Unfortunately for the film, the buddy role was stripped from Bean (Aramis Knight) and given to Petra (Hailee Steinfeld), granting it a kind of pseudo-romance that feels a bit awkward and never goes anywhere. At one point you’re sensing an oft-dreaded smooch coming on that would wreck the novels (and to a large extent, the film). When it doesn’t happen, your relief and the strangeness of the scene collide in an odd way.
Despite this, Card’s fear of not finding enough talented children actors should be buried, because Steinfeld et al did a phenomenal job. Asa Butterfield was as far from how I’d pictured Ender as possible, yet he sold me within minutes and carried the spotlight well.
As far as the adults went, Harrison Ford and Viola Davis were a great duo, but Ben Kingsley left a little to be desired. I’m not sure what he thinks a New Zealand accent sounds like, but that wasn’t it. Kingsely has a bit of a reputation for being a Plan B actor. That didn’t seem to be the case here, however he was largely underutilized. He played Mazer Rackham well in the few parts sparged in, but other than his intense glare and some lip-service by other characters, we’re not given any real idea of his brilliance or why he isn’t 85 years old.
Of course, no film is without flaws. Apparently, a century from now video games will revert from photo-realistic graphics to mind-controlled Pixar cartoons. Every student will use iPads, but they’ll be big clunky ones that allow you to do some bicep curls with one hand while you key in an email with the other.
[Spoiler in the next line!] It would also seem that the most important outpost of the earth’s combined military has been built walking distance from some sneaky aliens who’ve managed to hide in a slightly shaded grotto. How devious!
The biggest crime of “Ender’s Game” is that it wasn’t made for 3D. The pacing of the movie is quick and relentless, leaving the ending seeming rather abrupt. This has spawned many speculations about a sequel. Having churned through the novels, my guess is that it’s more of an encouragement to read the series than a nod to another movie.
Parents should also be warned that “Ender’s Game” can easily be mistaken for a military recruitment video and that Ender himself declares his preference for physical violence. If you’re bringing children to this film, you should definitely plan on talking to them about it afterward.
It’s not often that we see a film try to take on the “Star Wars” standard and evolve from a boy’s humble beginnings to a full-blown space battle, but “Ender’s Game” gave it a valiant effort. While the “Ender’s Game” movie won’t likely prove to be quite the timeless inspiration of its film predecessor, “Star Wars,” it’s probably as much as fans could hope for on a $110 million budget.
I give “Ender’s Game” a 7.5/10.