Ender’s Game (Movie) – A Critical Review

So, Ender’s Game. I recently reread the book so I could watch the movie, and like the nerd I am, point out where every little scene “got it wrong.” This was one of my favorite science fiction books of my youth, shaping my interest in military SF and space opera along with the epic TV series, Babylon 5.  Surely in movie form they’d botch it all to hell.

Interestingly enough, when I finally saw the movie, my wife noted afterward, “this is the first movie you’ve seen that I can remember that you didn’t pick it apart.” And she was right.

I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite movie of all time. I don’t think it hit on the emotional chords that the book did that made my heart bleed for Ender to the point where I’d say it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. It was definitely a “dumbed down” action movie version of Ender’s Game.  But it was still fun. I was still happy to see this book brought to life. I even can rationalize almost every choice they made where it differs from the book, because it makes more sense for film that way.  I’ll go over those now, and point out where I think the movie did fail emotionally where the book hit harder, but overall, I think it was a good movie and worth seeing, so please note that.

First, the Peter/Valentine relationship and all of the subplots involved were streamlined to “Peter, bully. Valentine, nice sister.”  It didn’t resonate nearly as emotionally even though it hit a lot of the key points from Ender’s perspective. Naturally their brilliant political commentary was left out, that would have been a whole move to itself. I was fine with this, time limitations.

The school and battles were streamlined down to a couple of examples. This had to be done for time too, didn’t emotionally impact me poorly. I thought the battles  were well done, looked great. The aliens were a little generic PS3 video gamey, but that’s fine. It’s what I expect.

Other than that, it was pretty darn faithful. Again, it didn’t hit my heartstrings as much as the book, but I realized that was because the book had so much intimate Ender thought process in it that you can’t communicate visually like this. You have an isolated, solo kid and if you want to move the battle school/aliens plot along, there’s not really a way to delve too deeply into that. End result was it worked out fine.

There’s two parts that actually bothered me a little, but not enough to condemn the movie:

  1. The subtext of the buggers invasion was changed ever so slightly. It was very clear that this third war was not eminent, as it felt like it was in the books. The books were very ambiguous as to the morality of the situation, but all the military believed whole heartedly that the buggers were so close to attacking again. In the movie here, they seemed to make a point that this was a “pre-emptive strike” and it felt like a generic holywood critique of American foreign policy. Ho hum.  Blurry lines and deep subtext that illicit true philosophical questions I guess aren’t doable in high budget movies.   It didn’t ruin the movie for me, but I believe it is worth noting.
  2. The morality of what went on with the children and the xenocide was firmly on Colonel Graff. In the books, Ender bears a LOT of that weight. It’s ambiguous whether what was done to the kids was wrong or right. Ender has some responsibility, Graff has some responsibility. Ender’s forced to be an adult about it. There’s so much interesting discussion on those points I could have a whole blog dedicated to that and not run out of material for years. The movie again just took away all the blurry lines. Graff was responsible, it was bad. Poor Ender. Consequently the ending with Ender’s revelation and becoming the Speaker for the Dead was not nearly as emotionally impactful.

Art’s purpose is to evoke an emotional response, and Ender’s Game as a book is a fine example of art in its highest form in that regard.  The movie did not hit on those points, but the writing worked, there weren’t horrible plot holes, I enjoyed the kid actors who did a phenomenal job, the effects were great and the beloved main storyline was left mostly in tact. So I can’t really ask for more out of Hollywood, but I still want to. I rank this up there as a pretty darn good movie, along with John Carter from a couple years back. Neither will be my favorite to watch on repeat, but they were definitely worth going to see on a big screen.

One thought on “Ender’s Game (Movie) – A Critical Review

  1. “Graff was responsible, it was bad. Poor Ender.”

    Is the movie really redeemable if that’s the way it presented the conflict? I had always thought that’s what made Ender and Bean and everyone else’s story so relatable — kids playing a part in an adult world, and enduring the consequences of their actions. Agency. Respect or notoriety. Knowledge and regret.

    That’s what I longed for as a kid, anyway.

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