Reviewed by Galen Strickland
For the most part, Ender's Game is an entertaining movie. The set design and visual effects are excellent, although the final battle scene suffers from too much clutter of activity, a fault I've noted in several other recent films. The acting is generally very good, although casting of at least one character (Bonzo Madrid) was off from his description in the novel, as well as the demeanor of Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis) were reversed. The ages of most of the young actors are approximately compatable to each other; Abigail Breslin as Valentine is a year older than Asa Butterfield as Ender, and Aramis Knight (Bean) is about two years younger than Asa, just as Bean is a couple of years younger than Ender. However, they are all more than five years older than the characters in the book. Either the producers couldn't find more age-appropriate actors, or the studio felt it was going to be a hard enough sell because of the subject matter. It reminds me of how the more violent parts of The Hunger Games were watered down to get a PG-13 rating.
It is not a bad adaptation, in fact several scenes are very accurately depicted. However, if you've read and liked the book, I'm not sure if you will be pleased with the film. Even though by today's standards the book is relatively short, the major problem in the film is the streamlining of the plot. I guess that was inevitable in a movie held to less than two hours, but a lot of the sub-plots were ignored, several events were either eliminated or out of sequence, and the timeline speeded up tremendously. Nothing is so far off as to negate any of the points Card made in the novel, but too much is telegraphed in advance, most particularly Graff's motives and the way he is manipulating Ender. The best part concerns a video game Ender plays in his free time, not associated with any of his battle training, but one designed as a psychological tool to assess a candidate's mental state. Just as he has mastered all of the obstacles the Battle School has thrown at him, Ender is also successful in getting farther in this game than anyone else before. These sequences are very well animated, and they set up a reveal at the end of the film, which while also too streamlined from the book, does a good job at setting up a possible sequel. Only time, and box office reports, will tell if that is to happen, but from the looks of how it is faring in its first weekend, I would say the prospects are not good.
I'm not giving this one a high recommendation, although I'm not condemning it either. I likely won't be interested in ever seeing it again, unless there is an extended version released on video. If you've read the book and are interested in how the film compares, I say give it a chance. If not, then better to save your money for next week's Thor sequel, which will likely give you much more bang for the buck, as well as being less morally ambiguous. I will give Hood credit for one thing though. This is one of the few SF films in the past decade that involves a tragedy and yet avoids the evocation of 9/11. I do hope there is a sequel though, since I recall liking Speaker for the Dead even more. I'll eventually be reviewing that book anyway, since it also won a Hugo and Nebula the year following Ender's Game.
My review of the novel.
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