We went to go see Ender’s Game on opening weekend and were really pleased that it wasn’t in 3D. We saw it in UltraAVX, which was quite sufficient. Having just finished reading the book, I was really interested in the movie.
Some people believe that because of the characters are so young and the necessary special effects that Ender’s Game would be unadaptable. But movie technology has come a long way since the book was written in 1978 and the recent slew of young adult adapted films shows that young actors have a lot more potential than sometimes given credit for.
In terms of the adaptation, I was left desiring something more. I thought the adaptation was scattered and lacked focus. We were rushed through Battle School without realizing the importance of some of the events—what really defined Ender as The One. And then the pacing of other things was oddly drawn out. While I realize that a lot of the subplots about the politics of Earth had to be cut out, the story of Ender’s growth was a mixture of random unexplained events. (As a slightly pedantic aside, I like how they used the word “Formics” for the Buggers, which is a word that author Orson Scott Card introduced later in the book series.)
I wish they had developed Ender’s character better. In the book there are clear examples of why he is considered special, what discoveries and innovations he made while fighting in Battle School. But I felt that a lot of those were skipped or left unexplained. For example, in a part where they were in a battle with two other School armies, Ender decided to use a formation. When challenged that they didn’t practice them, Ender said that’s why they won’t expect them. But the development of Ender’s tactics and thus the transformation of Battle School’s armies had never been explained or shown in the movie.
Asa Butterfield plays Ender Wiggin, and although he’s 16 he looks about 12. I think it works though, because in the book he’s supposed to start at age 6 and is about age 10 by the final battle. There are a number of close-up shots of Butterfield crying (or about to cry) trying to convey the feelings of isolation, despair, and anxiety. Butterfield is a good actor, but the script didn’t otherwise convey how these events overwhelmed him.
Harrison Ford plays Colonel Graff, which I think was very well cast, he is a sort of tough-love military. Graff wants the best for the kids, as long as he still gets what he needs, and is continually at odds with the children’s psychiatrist Anderson (Viola Davis). The addition of a psychiatrist is something that 21st century audiences expect, but I felt that the faceoffs between Graff and Anderson were almost superfluous. Ben Kingsley depicts Mazer Rackham in Maori tattoos and a curious accent. While I appreciate that they briefly explained why Mazer had the tattoos, I think that a lot of the important interactions between Mazer and Ender were skipped.
As for the other young actors, Bonzo (Moisés Arias) was incredibly well cast and Petra (Hailee Steinfeld) is a stand in for Ender’s sister, with a bit of a romantic undertone. I expect they cast Abigail Breslin as Valentine Wiggin with hopes that they could develop the political subplot (and the subsequent books) into future movies.
The graphics are incredible, and the use of zero gravity was well done. It was nice to see a movie that didn’t overuse special effects despite how easy that would be. Recently, many movies have relied on CGI and all sorts of FX technology to the detriment of the story. I think they had a good balance, even if the screenplay wasn’t top notch.