Movie Review: Ender’s Game

This weekend, my husband and I decided to go to the movies. I mentioned a while back that I had some misgivings about going to see Ender’s Game. I still feel conflicted, due to Orson Scott Card’s recent (and not so recent) inflamatory comments, but in the end, I decided to go see it.

enders_game_ver11_xlgI’ve been a fan of this book ever since I was in middle school, so not seeing the movie felt wrong too. Between these mixed feelings, and the nervousness I always get when one of my favorite books gets turned into a movie, AND the fact that I ended up sitting way too close to the screen and that always gives me a little bit of motion sickness . . . I was a bit of a mess.

But anyway, on with the review. I will start off with my complaints, ending with the good stuff. I’m also writing this assuming that you have read the book, so there might be a few minor spoilers

Bad Stuff

1. Ender Wiggin is huge. Not huge in the sense that he’s a big kid (he’s actually quite scrawny), but he’s really tall in the movie. In the book, he was always portrayed as one of the youngest kids to ever be made commander, so he’s always smaller than the other kids. It’s a big deal. Everyone else towers over Ender, especially as he quickly moves through the ranks. In the movie, Ender is taller than most of the kids around. Not a big criticism, but still, it was a bit strange.

2. Ender Wiggin is old. Hard to say this when you’re talking about an actor who is only sixteen (and probably only looks about fourteen or so), but when the character is only ages five through ten years old in the book, then fourteen looks old. Granted, in the book, Ender doesn’t act like a ten year old. He always sounds much older, so seeing him as a teenager wasn’t too much of a stretch. Again, a minor complaint, but still. He should have been a kid, not a teenager.

3. Slight romantic leanings. It was very slight, but enough that it got on my nerves a little bit. There were a few scenes where it seemed like they were pushing for Ender and Petra to have some sort of relationship. In the book they are friends and that’s it, mostly because Ender is quite a bit younger than Petra is. Also, in the book, again, Ender is a small child. Girls should still be icky.

4. Bean as a launchy. This bothered me more than it probably should, but in the movie, Bean is part of Ender’s launch group. They are peers before they are ever commander/soldier. I don’t know why this bothered me, because it did give Bean more screen time. But it felt wrong.

And . . . those are really my only complaints. None of them are really that distracting. On to the good stuff.

Good Stuff

1. Battle School. Holy crap, did it look awesome! Every time they showed it floating in orbit over the Earth, I got chills, with it’s circular spinning rings, the battle room at the center.

Actually, I should just say that all the special effects were pretty spectacular.

2. The Battle Room. It was stunning. The way they did the special effects with the zero gravity battles was amazing. I have no idea how they did it, but they did it well. I did not expect the walls of the battle room to be transparent. I always pictured them as being opaque, since they were able to control the light during battles to change the set up and the challenges presented. With the Earth right there below them, it is always illuminated. But whatever, it still looked really cool.

3. Casting. Let’s do this one by one, because I didn’t have any complaints here at all.

  • Asa Butterfield – While I thought he was too old and too tall, otherwise he was the perfect Ender. Strong, yet vulnerable. He was really good at showing Ender’s mental state, which is always shaky given the pressure he’s under, and yet always keeping that resolve to go on. He doesn’t look like a hero, but he’s exactly what they needed.
  • Harrison Ford – I was excited about this from the first time I heard about it. He was great as Graff. This is a difficult character. You know he is purposefully putting Ender in more and more difficult situations, and yet you know that he is also trying to do what is best for humanity. You may not like Graff, but you can’t hate him. Harrison Ford pulls off this balance perfectly.
  • Viola Davis and Nonso Anozie – Playing Anderson and Dap respectively, they were both not what I expected, but both brilliant. Dap was much more aggressive in the movie than he is in the book, but you could also see that he cared about these kids. I did not expect Anderson to be played by a woman – I always pictured the character as a man – but the book never specifies. Viola Davis is a great counterpoint to Harrison Ford as a more compassionate voice for Ender, even though she gets overruled.
  • Moises Arias – This was a standout performance to me. They combined Ender’s time Salamander and Rat Army, and also combined the characters of Bonzo Madrid and Rose the Nose into a Bonzo who is competitive to the point of madness and has a cruel, ruthless streak that shows the extreme of what the IF is doing to these kids.
  • All the other Battle School kids – Aramis Knight as Bean, Hailee Steinfeld as Petra, Suraj Partha as Alai, Conor Carroll as Bernard, Khylin Rhambo as Dink – they were all really good. I may not have liked the changes they made with Petra or Bean (or the fact that they completely minimized Dink’s role), the kids themselves were wonderful. And Bean was adorable, the smart aleck he is.

4. The Command School simulations. These were nothing like I expected at all. They were even better. I always pictured Ender looking at a large screen while directing the others in battle. I did not expect the entire room to be a 3D projection of the battle, with ships moving all around them. It was absolutely amazing, and easy to see how a commander could be overwhelmed and come close to the breaking point.

5. The Ending. I will not give away the ending. I will just say this. They kept the integrity of the ending of the book in the movie. I wish I knew someone who hadn’t read the book who will go see the movie so I can see if it’s as shocking in the movie when you aren’t expecting it. Hey, if you go see the movie and you haven’t read the book, let me know what you thought about the ending! Everyone I know has read the book, so they can’t help me here.

So overall, the movie was really, really good. Sure, they had to shorten things and combine things to fit the book into movie parameters, but they did it well. They kept the original heart of the story, and that’s always the main thing I care about when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations. The question is still there – did the end justify the means? Did the fact that Graff helped save mankind justify what he did to Ender and the rest of the kids at Battle School? The book, and by extension the movie, doesn’t answer that, but it does make you think. If you are a fan of the book, I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed, since we have been waiting decades for this. They did a good job.

Categories: Movies I've Seen

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6 replies

  1. I have read the book but I think given my age & the fact that I read it probably 20 years ago I probably won’t remember much of it so . . . I’ll go & let you know what I think of the ending. This review has given me the interest & desire to go see it. Want to go with me? 🙂

  2. You asked… I had not read the book when JT (who HAD, but didn’t share his ) and I went to the matinee. OTOH, a mutual friend of ours, had previously mentioned some of the background, so I wasn’t totally lost in the storyline.

    Ender’s Size: Not having foreknowledge of his size, the director did accomplish making him appreciably smaller, nerdy-but-clever-with-tactical-matters (such as not being beaten up by everyone he encounter), and vulnerable to his peers. But I was startled to realize how tall he became so quickly. Sure, boys do have growth spurts, but…really? In fact, I commented on that very thing afterward.

    Other Actors: again with no preconception of just who/how they were portrayed in the book, seemed totally suitable to the roles they played. Believable and reasonable–which is just as it should be.

    Special Effects: imaginative and stunning–but perhaps less so because of not having conceived my own mental images of what their description in print would have painted on my mind. It’s always a wonderful surprise to have Hollywood outdo imagination. [Think Katniss in her flaming dress!]

    Ending: About two minutes to wonder if… So…the verification wasn’t a total shock. But the realization of the magnitude of the event ripped my soul.

    Recommendation: Go for it at least once. The magnitude of the special effects demand the huge screen to be properly intimidated. Well worth the price of admission.

    [Denise: If this comment is a spoiler, please remove it because not everyone is as suspicious as I.]

  3. I saw the movie last weekend and never read the book. I must say I was quite impressed with the movie.The ending was…i’m not sure. Quite impressive right up until the last battle simulation. Then…anti climactic? Not really sure what to think of that.

    • It’s much better explained/portrayed in the book (isn’t it always?), so if you liked the movie, the book is a must. In your spare time, of course. 😉 And I think they were trying to set the movie up for the sequel, Speaker for the Dead, although who knows if that will ever get made. The rest of the series is completely different anyway, so it’s no great loss.

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