By Adam Sturrock
Ender’s Game (2013)
Director: Gavin Hood
Writer: Gavin Hood / Orson Scott Card
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin
Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is special. He is scrawny but exudes confidence and power over his peers. He talks of love and hate being not enemies but more closer related to friends. The only glaring problem is that he is barely out of puberty. Originally written by Orson Scott Card in the mid-eighties, it was pretty much seen as “un-adaptable” by both the author and movie executives. But somehow, almost too closely, we see Ender scaled up on the big screen with mixed results.
Earth was on its knees when an alien race called the formics (or buggers for those who have read the books) crushed its armies under their exo-skeleton heels. It was only by chance that they scraped through and kicked them out. With the fear of a second, killer wave on the horizon, Earth are pre-emptively striking back but with kids, a pliable and more suggestable army that can adapt at a rate not comparable to adults. The movie, however, suffers from the usual adaptation stutters that most would expect.
South African director, Gavin Hood, tries to condense the novel into its main set pieces but something seems missing. The main character, Ender Wiggin (admirably played by Butterfield), is supposed to be a prodigious mind; well above his peers but we never truly get a sense of that. Because you can only fit in so much into a film, the occasions in which we are meant to see his superior intellect seem too fleeting to see anything exceptional and make a judgement. In the books, it shows Colonel Graff (Ford) trying to grind down Ender by stressing him out with increasingly harder challenges. The film fails to show this, it kind of repeats over and over again that he is the best, mankind’s savior, but there aren’t many examples of this; in arguably the better movie sequences where we see him fighting in zero gravity, they last only two or three minutes. We wouldn’t understand the kind of weight he was under in the film unless he actually said, “Gee guys, can you calm down a bit?” Even a montage could have shown a snippet of his ability, but when we do see him compete against his peers (which seem far too spread out), it makes them appear stupid rather than the fairly intelligent people that they are.
Hood smartly decides to veto the earth-based portion of the book but decides to painstakingly recreate the tablet sections in which Ender plays a video game. The backstory to that is that the leaders want to test his decision making, but the CGI used looks poor and while it contributes to the story it counter productively puts me off watching the film.
Thank goodness the film has such a strong cast. The aforementioned Asa Butterfield and Harrison Ford, with a particular reference to the former, are excellent and really push a mediocre script as far as it could go. The supporting cast, while we don’t really see them that often, have been well selected, but the links between the characters seem undeveloped. For example, the equally impressive Hailee Steinfeld is barely seen, but somehow, we are expected to understand she is best friends with Ender. I hate saying this, but the film would have benefitted by being split in half so that we can actually see some measured character development.
All in all, I am disappointed because, like the book, it manages to stay ahead of many films of the same age group by being smart in its commentary on the ethics and side effects of children growing up quickly to fit into adult roles. But it just can’t stand up to the book because of its run time; it will always be a measure of chopping and keeping choice cuts but the scraps that we are given seem disjointed and lacking of the overall picture. Although it is unlikely after seeing its performance at the box office, a sequel would be needed to greatly expand on the framework left here.
What did you guys think about the film? Let me know in the comment section below.