Ender‘s Game

Long awaited famous sci-fi book adaptation stays only partly true to children’s space army idea.


Director: Gavin Hood | Stars: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley

Budget: 110 million | Box office: 80 million (3 weeks)

IMDb: 7.2 | Metacritic: 51

Ender's Game, Asa Butterfield

This is the case when there‘s more to talk about the origins and idea of the film than the movie itself. I was really surprised that the novel Ender‘s Game was written by Orson Scott Card back in 1985. It seems very modern and is much better than many current popular teenage series, which are promptly pushed to the big screen. So why then such a good and awarded novel took so many years to adapt to the movie? And why eventually it didn‘t happen the way it was meant to be?

The answer lies in the basic Ender‘s Game idea. The world barely survived the invasion of alien race and now has to prepare for another war. It was decided that the best way to do this is to take the smartest and most capable children from all of the world and train them as future space captains, who will be able to stop the invasion. On paper it is brilliant and the main characters are written very thoroughly and seriously. It‘s really easy to imagine what they must cope with to even try to train in the so called Battle School – a space station facility. The problem is how to portray children who are only six to twelve years old as seriously as real adult soldiers.

This was the main obstacle, keeping Ender‘s Game from being produced. Everyone who was trying to propose a film to the book‘s author wanted to do a teenagers‘ movie instead with a necessary love story involved and other critical changes to the plot. Orson Scott Card objected this and was constantly looking for producers who would agree to keep the original idea as intact as possible. He settled for compromise that the main characters would not be older than twelve years. I can‘t imagine how it would be possible to do a truly original film – there‘s not enough such exceptional children actors and I agree in part that it would be not so interesting to watch for wider public.

But in the final Ender‘s Game this main rule was broken. I‘m not sure was it because of delays already in production or other reasons, but the main character Andrew „Ender“ Wiggin is played by Hugo star Asa Butterfield, who at the start of filming was 14 years old. That said, I think the choice was right and he manages to look younger and sincere, not like typical teenager but more like a book‘s character.

There are many other changes to the novel‘s plot, but they seem to work well in the movie and do not alter the main idea of the plot or seriously diminish the brightest moments. Film developers managed to portray the inner thoughts of Ender in the forms of emails and more dialogues. In such way the film is as much interesting without reading the book first, but I would argue to do otherwise, even if in that case you know the whole plot. Just don‘t read the companion book Ender‘s Shadow – the idea to use it and it‘s main hero as almost equal part for the film was not pursued. But save it for later – it‘s almost as good as Ender‘s Game.

Regardless any arguments about the changed vision of the novel, Ender‘s Game production level is quite high. I‘m surprised that the team managed to source such a big budget. Although not all film scenes look amazing, the main attraction points – gravity free battle room where children learn to fight and CGI battle simulations with aliens – are really impressive and even surpassed at least my imagination.  It‘s a bit strange that the film is not in 3D, but probably developers decided not to do it at all than to make it poorly. Soundtrack is engaging too, if a bit predictable, composed by Steve Jablonsky. After this I‘ll hate Transformers less I suppose.

The final question is traditional one – what will be next? Ender‘s Game novel spawned a whole series of books, but as I understand they are quite different than the first two ones. But I think it‘s possible to use some ideas from them and mix together with the outcome of the film‘s plot. In any case as a universe Ender‘s Game is really worth to expand.

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