What I loved about the book, Ender’s Game, is the relatability and parallels of the title character’s personal story.
Ender is born into a world at war, and he only has himself and his sister, Valentine to rely upon. Mankind had nearly been annihilated after an alien invasion 50 years earlier, and has been reaching for the corners of his universe to destroy the enemy on his own dying planet ever since.
The International Fleet (think U.N., but galactic and much more willing to be involved in combat), has been selecting potential recruits from children bred to lead their military on the offensive.
But unlike the kids in his school, Ender just wants to be, well, a kid. He wants friends, not competition; Parents, not commanders; Love, not a survivalist mentality. Authority living vicariously through children is a major theme in the book. As author Orson Scott Card put it, “It was plain to [Ender] that he was much more useful as a name and a story than he would ever be as an inconvenient flesh-and-blood person.”
Because he’s a genius with killer instinct, complimented with a strong capacity for empathy, Ender has the unique ability to understand his opponents intimately. The opening sequence does a great job of introducing the audience to Ender’s conundrum: being hated for the same reason he’s needed. Ender is being threatened by a bully, who is much bigger than he is, because Ender had beaten the bully at a war simulation game. Ender not only wins the fight, but kicks the kid while he’s down and sends him to the hospital so that he would only have to win the fight once. The International Fleet has been planning their war born based on the very same premise.
What the movie does best is to draw out the narrative of the book, written in the 3rd person omniscient, by turning several lines that describe Ender’s thoughts and feelings into dialogue between Ender and Valentine. Since she is the only person with whom Ender can share his heart, it feels perfectly natural for him to speak his mind. In fact, Ender confides in his sister as a method of maintaining his true identity, as in the book, Ender says, “Perhaps it’s impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be.”
An even greater part of this moral tension, however, is expressed through Harrison Ford’s Colonel Graff, and it robs the movie of some great opportunities to develop a more intriguing character arc for Ender. Ender’s moral conundrums are not going to be as strong in a 2 hour movie as in the book, but a few more scenes to capture Ender’s life at home, his inner strife, and especially his relationship with his sister, would have made the movie much stronger.
I’d like to have seen this done as a series. As much as the TV business seems to be booming with shows like The Walking Dead, it seems to me the studio could have had a great series on their hands.
All in all, it was very well done. Fans of the book will always say that the movie doesn’t quite measure up, and that will always be the case. Still, it was engaging all the way through, with acting, action sequences, and computer graphics all working to compliment the story, not made to stand alone as spectacle. The movie does convey the spirit of the book well, but comes just short of making the audience sympathize with the characters in the way the book does.
overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars
MPAA: PG-13 for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material.