Ender’s Game Review
By Alec R. Lee
Despite the man’s lunacy, you can’t deny that Orson Scott Card is a talented writer…at least until the 90s showed up. His magnum opus: Ender’s Game, was lauded with every major award a science fiction book could ever earn, the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and so on. Because this book was so beloved by science fiction fans worldwide, it seemed only natural that a movie adaptation would be in the works. Then the movie quickly became plagued with pre-production problems and entered development hell until writer/director Gavin Hood resurrected the concept and finally brought the long gestating film to the screen. I’ll try to keep spoilers down to a minimum, but seeing as the book has been out for a few decades, I’m not going to bother censoring myself much. Consider that your warning.
If the name Gavin Hood doesn’t sound familiar to you, here’s three little words that should jog your memory: X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That’s right, the man who directed that artistic endeavor (said with as much sarcasm as humanly possible) directed this film. That’s sort of like moving on from American Pie Presents to Hamlet. On top of that, the film would also be executive produced by the hit-or-miss team of Roberto Orci and Alexander Kurtzman (Star Trek, Transformers). Also of mention is that Orson Scott Card produced the film as well, and audiences were dismayed to learn that he would be receiving a cut of the profits. This might be the main reason why this film could not make bank at the box office, Card is notorious for viciously opposing the LGBT movement and making rather unpatriotic quotes regarding how the country is reacting to it. At this point, Card has since admitted that he had lost that particular debate (thank God) but it should be pointed out that the book and film do not contain any of Card’s unsavory views on the matter, and should be mentally separated from one another.
So, given the film’s rather turbulent background, does it deliver a straightforward adaptation of the novel? The answer is, yes. Surprisingly so. When I first sauntered into the theater, I honestly thought it was going to be just “meh.” I wasn’t expecting Star Wars or 2001, but at least this movie exceeded my expectations in that I was entertained throughout the movie. Gavin Hood actually did a respectable job in converting the book to film (well, he did win an Oscar) and the tone is remarkably mature. Of course, to condense this film to about the two hour mark, there had to be quite a few subplots that had to be removed. These omissions make sense, as they would have ruined the focus of the movie but some of the cut scenes include the entire Valentine/Peter plot line, Ender’s tenure in Rat Army, and several Battle Room scenes.
Ender’s Game, I would say, is very faithful to the novel. In case you have been living under a rock for your whole life, Ender’s Game takes place in the future, when a race of aliens has attacked Earth twice. To prepare for another attack, Earth recruits children to their Battle School to exploit their natural abilities and eventually use them in the war against the aliens. If you know the book, then you should be excited that the most notable scenes have been put onto the screen and at times, I was pleased at how these certain scenes were shot. The Battle Room scenes were very cool to watch (I wanted more of those scenes), you get to see Ender beating the living hell out of Stilson and Bonzo (the latter’s scene was well done, considering that in the novel it was much more graphic), and the final Command School games got to showcase where the CGI budget went. The dialogue is tight, there are no groaner lines and most of the 80s slang has been either excised or replaced altogether, an example would be using the word “Formics” instead of “buggers”. I would have to say, some of the voice overs are just worded oddly, like they weren’t revised before they were finalized and it just sounds plain awkward. Speaking of which, there were a few moments where it was incredibly noticeable when the actors were not talking but you could still hear their words. Seriously, there were some major dubbing issues in this film. But as a whole, I did like the film’s visual style, I liked the story, I liked the design of the Formics and of their culture: a combination of both bug and alien, and I liked the acting.
As an aside in regards to the acting, I would say that most of the cast did their jobs quite well. Asa Butterfield made a very convincing Ender, he could be cold and calculating but you’d still care for him because his journey was very convincing. The movie did a good job of portraying the rigors of military school, even though they did not go all out with that idea, mind you, but they at least made the effort to show the strain on him, and in one scene it makes all the difference. The rest of the supporting cast does a good job with the material. Harrison Ford delivers a solid performance as Col. Graff (he is mostly in angry mode for the whole film), Viola Davis is an interesting counterpart to Ford’s Graff as Maj. Anderson, who is more empathetic than Graff’s meticulous design. Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin provide a good foil for Ender, one acting as a friend/mentor, the other as a loving sister. And Ben Kingsley chews every scene he’s in (but the tattoos on his head do that for him). Ender’s squad range from convincing to merely passable. Ender’s brother Peter is only shown in one scene and has the most character cut from the film (seeing as he is a major character in the book). But the role of Bonzo is horribly miscast, in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I thought that the actor did fine with his lines, but the book described the character as larger than Ender, to provide a metaphor for his size and rank. In the film, Ender towers over Bonzo by at least a head. I keep expecting Ender to break out laughing due to him being accosted by an angry midget who spouts the occasional Spanish word when he’s mad. They really could have done better.
I would also like to take the opportunity to talk about the score. The soundtrack duties were initially appointed to James Horner (Titanic, Avatar) but for inexplicable reasons, he either dropped out or was replaced altogether with Steve Jablonsky (Transformers, The Island). Fans of film scores would know that Jablonsky is universally reviled for making extremely unoriginal scores, an emphasis on too much electronics, and emphasizing all the worst qualities from a Remote Control Productions ghostwriter (*cough* Lorne Balfe *cough*). So yes, going in, I was judging the score to be absolutely wretched, but like my attitude with the film, it did exceed my expectations. I would not go so far to say that it’s a good soundtrack, but it definitely is one of the best scores Jablonsky has produced since bursting onto the scene with 2004’s Steamboy (now that is a good score). There is an emphasis on electronics yes, but Jablonsky does employ a cello (Martin Tillman, presumably) for several scenes, and uses bells/chimes to emphasize the importance Ender is to the fleet. It’s a solid score and it fits well within the film. There could have been better compositions, yes (like James Horner, for instance) but Jablonsky deserves some credit for stepping, albeit slightly, outside of his comfort zone.
In the end, I was pleased that this film was better than I thought it would be. It delivered on the promise, so many years ago, to bring the book on which it was based to the silver screen. If this film succeeds at the box office, I wonder if they will move to adapt the other novels in the series next, a worrying prospect as the rest of the books range from okay (Speaker for the Dean) to unbelievably wretched (Children of the Mind). Is it the best film of the year? No. But it is good entertainment that warrants your attention throughout the two hours your ass is sitting in that chair.
Final Score: 80/100