Director: Gavin Hood
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley
Young Ender Wiggin is recruited by the International Military to lead the fight against the Formics, a genocidal alien race which nearly annihilated the human race in a previous invasion.
Back in 2007 an acquaintance of mine said “Oh hey, you like to read, check out this book.” That book was Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel Ender’s Game. I devoured that novel and the subsequent books in the series. Ender’s Game quickly became one of my favorite novels of all time. It’s one of those books that I’m always recommending to people by saying: “Oh hey, you like to read, check out this book.” When I heard last year there was going to be a highly-anticipated film adaptation of the novel I was excited. Sure there was the usual worries about what would be changed, but my general hope was that the movie would be awesome and that finally it would be easier to get people to share the same enjoyment I’ve had for Ender’s Game. Did the movie meet those expectaions?
The Source Material
With any film adaptation of a novel there are going to be changes and depending on the nature of those changes it can be good or bad. Generally, the film version feels like the “Cliff Notes” of it’s source material. Such is the case with Ender’s Game. It gets the gist of the story and the characters – all the correct events and plot points are there, but it’s rushed and feels rather hallow because not everything in the book can be in the movie.
Ender’s Game takes place in Earth’s future, years after the planet was able to repel an invasion from an alien force known as the Formics. In the novel these aliens were called “buggers” but considering what that word is slang for in the UK I can understand why it was changed for the movie. In preparation for the inevitable return of this alien menace, the government has sought to use the minds of highly intelligent and tactically minded children to lead humanity to victory. Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) believes he’s found the savior of humanity in the mind of young Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield). He brings him into battle school and rigorously turns him into a mind capable of leading all of the Earth’s forces to successfully defeat the Formics.
Most of the changes from the novel occur during Ender’s time at battle school. The novel details the tactical prowess of Ender during battle games as he constantly leads his squad to victory against increasingly overwhelming odds. He takes a group of outcasts and misfits and becomes both their leader and their friend in order to ensure victory every single time. The bulk of the novel are these games and the progression of Ender’s development as a commander as well as developing the characters and the relations they have. The movie has condensed this to about two separate battles and a lot of Ender’s relations with other students is glazed over a bit. You get the hint that they became better friends “off camera” but it still does feel rather unfulfilling. For instance, one of my favorite characters from both Ender’s Game as well as further novels in the series was that of Bean. In the film of Ender’s Game, Bean is hardly explored at all. He’s there and serves Ender’s purpose but the character himself is rather void. Everyone except Ender, it seems, is just a name with a face and little more. Granted, Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley’s characters are well rounded in the film – more detailed than they were in the book actually – but it’s not as detailed as the book. Yes, I understand there’s no way for all the character development to make it to the movie so I’m still okay with that change. Heck, it gives people more motivation to read the novel to get the full picture of the world of Ender’s Game.
Orson Scott Card is a fantastic author but he’s also an unbelievable homophobe. It’s one vital reason it’s been so hard to recommend either the novel or the film adaptation of Ender’s Game to friends and others. “Oh, it’s from that gay-hating Orson Scott Card? Pass.” There was controversy at the time of Ender’s Game release with people wanting to boycott the film simply because of how vocal Card is with his views on homosexuality. Yeah it irked me a bit. I am gay and people are bothered by the fact that I don’t hate Orson Scott Card and continue to admire Ender’s Game as much as I do. Card has been described as an “unrepentant homophobe.” Unrepentant is not the word I would use because I see no need for Card or anyone to feel remorse about their point-of-view. Certainly one should feel repentant for actions they’ve done but not over thinking a certain way. People boycotting a movie over an author’s point-of-view was their way of thought policing the world.
The truth is, I don’t give a damn what Orson Scott Card thinks about homosexuality or not. None of those views are present in Ender’s Game so why does it matter? I’m able to separate the art from the artist simply because Card is able to separate the art from his personal beliefs. Even the studio behind Ender’s Game was able to do this easily. The producers and the cast don’t share Card’s views on gay marriage and the like and none of Card’s views on those matters are present in the film. Why boycott the film based on that? There are a lot of homophobes out there of which Orson Scott Card is only one. A lot of them have made remarks about gay marriage and people get all bothered with “oh you shouldn’t have said that. What really matters is what has Card DONE to harm homosexuals? Nothing. So why the fuss? There are people out there attacking homosexuals and causing physical harm – worry about those ones and not some person’s thoughts. People acted alike Ender’s Game was supposed to be some sort of legislative tool and that if people watched it then gay marriage would never be a possibility. The bottom line is that Ender’s Game, both the novel and the film, are an enjoyable sci-fi story with absolutely no aspiration to be anything else. Movies like this are escapism, so people can forget about the problems of the world – why try to change that?
The Movie On Its Own
Let’s leave aside the novel Ender’s Game as well as it’s author and just focus on what merits the film has to offer. It’s a very well-made film that is visually captivating and quite imaginative. Harrison Ford shows that he’s still every bit the actor he’s remembered as. It’s quite easy to forget the tired Ford performance from Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull as he brings a lot of energy and passion to the role of Colonel Graff here.
As Ender’s Game is largely a story about children (well young teens) it is important to focus on them. Many a film as succeeded or failed based upon the ability of a younger cast to carry it on their shoulders. In the case of Ender’s Game, Asa Butterfield and the others do a great job. Butterfield carried Hugo to victory so he’s shown that he’s a talented young actor. Ender’s Game shows that Hugo was not just a fluke and that he really shows potential to have a rewarding career in the future should he chose to pursue that. The other kids in the cast don’t take center stage and find their place in the ensemble, which is good.
Yes, there is plenty of CGI in this film but it’s tastefully and sparingly used. There’s still plenty of practical effects at work in Ender’s Game and the CG effects are used only to emphasize the visual experience when needed – as it should be used – so I can appreciate this. I enjoyed the film adaptation of Ender’s Game every bit as much as the novel it’s based on. Whether you have read the book or not – the film is definitely worth watching. Who cares about what Orson Scott Card said about the gays – he’s not the first to say those kind of things and he certainly won’t be the last – but he did write a fantastic novel that was given a great film adaptation.