Dissecting Ender’s Game

ASA BUTTERFIELD and HARRISON FORD star in ENDER'S GAME
Ender’s Game is one of Orson Scott Card’s fan favorite novels, and the results are a fun and beautiful “action” film that brings this story of the preparation for war to life. The problem is that with so much material to include, the main theme of the story is not played up to its full potential. You just may not notice unless you’ve read the book.

Lauren: Ender’s Game follows Ender Wiggin, a promising child with the potential to command in a future in which children are trained to become soldiers in preparation for the impending war against an alien race that came close to decimating the human population of Earth once before. We see his struggle through war school as the pressure is put on to be the savior of humanity, but the struggle isn’t fully realized if you ask me.

**Warning: spoilers included in this discussion**

My sister and I read Ender’s Game as our book club book back in May (see it here), and though I wasn’t blown away by this book as I expected to be based on the general consensus on it, seeing what this film cuts out of the story made me appreciate the source material so much more, and it’s sad to think that many people won’t really be connected to the main theme of the story if they rely on the film as a representation of the world created by Card. Not that I want to give that man a compliment considering some of the issues he has spoken out against, but knowing the potential that was there made it hard for me to fully embrace the film. Instead I saw the choppiness in the editing to get in all that was “necessary” to the early set up, and the main story of Ender’s degradation because of what these military leaders were willing to do to a child to save the world falls to the wayside. It is there, but it does not reach the depth that was needed to make this adaptation as effective as it could have been.

Granted, this is all coming from someone who has read the book. What did you think as someone coming in with no expectations, Zac?

Zac: I thought it was really, really good. While watching I certainly felt like I was getting the abbreviated version of this story, knowing there was a novel it was based on, but I think the film does a great job at balancing what’s needed for the film to work. The pacing of the film is excellent, and while I wish I got more of the battles at Command School we still get more than enough. Sure, it would have been nice to have dug into a lot of the characters a bit more, but I understand it is an adaptation and what we get more than gets the point across. That said, I hope Gavin Hood has a director’s cut sitting around, but this needs a big box office to rationalize all the effects works that would probably have to be completed. That said, the film makes me want to read the book and I am excited to get some added depth from that.

I really feel like you need to just kind of look at what the film can, and does, give you to keep it accessible and I think you will find that it is very strong at every turn.

Lauren: Goodness I wish I had gotten to see the film through your eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy it for the most part, but that doesn’t take away the fact that I was constantly noticing what was missing, which also made what they did choose to show harder to let slip by. Take Ender: he smiled way too much. But I guess I would too if I was in scenes where Hailee Steinfeld was pulling the whole “let me show you how to do this as I wrap my arms around you. Now look at my naturally bushy eyebrows as I feel for you!” That sounded creepier than it was meant to… I meant if I was a young boy in a situation that was clearly set up to be crushworthy, I would fall for it! All I know is instead of being an interesting character on her own, she was just this potential crush that didn’t really need to be there. Instead I was hoping she would have been a replacement for Valentine since we spend less time with her than in the novel, especially because what time Abigail Breslin does get just felt like they were including her just so they could explain that Ender has to fall somewhere in between her and Peter in the spectrum of violence/empathy (which didn’t really come across because in the end all they really wanted him for was violence). And the only real scene she is given is the one out on the lake when she has to talk Ender back into the program. This scene was horrible, made worse because it did not have the strong overriding theme of a broken child to back it up.

Also, while I am on this rant, I just want to point out that Ender kills two children in the book: the bully at battle school who attacks him in the bathroom, and the bully in the beginning back on Earth. They choose to let Ender believe that these kids were okay because they knew it would destroy him (which plays into that boat scene), which makes how he wins the war all the more excruciating as it sinks in. I’m not saying that the movie didn’t do a fine job of telling a story, but oh the story it could have told.

Zac: I would have loved that wrinkle of suppressing the truth, had they kept it in there, but alas (EXTENDED CUT!).

I agree 100% with the lake scene, just terrible and unnecessary. It seemed there solely to work in the quotation that starts the film and while the love angle towards an enemy supports the ending, the handling of it feels clumsy. I have to disagree with you on Steinfeld though, sure she could have been fleshed out a bit more, but she was a faithful friend that was handled quite platonically from my angle.

Let’s get back into what was working as I think the effects and action in the film were top notch. It’s sad we are shocked by coherent action in this day and age, but I was blown away with how fluid all of the set pieces played out. Even more credit deserves to be handed out to Hood for making so much of this film thrilling when it takes place at a console. The final attack is exciting and engaging even though it’s a “simulation” (I was on top of this twist) and the imagery is wonderfully crafted gorgeous to watch unfold. The battle room sequences we do get are almost as effective as the command sequences, as watching Ender unleash his strategy is a blast; this is a big reason why your complaint about his smiling played great for me.

Lauren: As much as I complain about the “could have been” in concern to the emotional level, the action and visuals did everything it could to keep me happy with what they did focus on. The fact that he copied Tattoo Face’s strategy helped me believe Ender could win that final battle since the training wasn’t as lengthy of a process on screen, and I will even look past how quickly those kids have learned to use those computers since before they had played physical games just because it was so cool to watch. I was impressed with the graphics (though Gravity still has the lead for me on that one), and I was also pleased with how the video game turned out. Best of all, that alien looked pretty cool. Having an ending moment like that would have been ruined with my laughter had anything looked off; luckily I remained fully invested in what was happening.

Zac: I think the cast of the film is also worth mentioning, as there are a couple of great performances here. We have touched on Butterfield a bit, but I really was impressed with his turn in this film. He captures the struggle of Ender and the necessary horror in the finale. I bought him as a leader and someone not to be messed with as he is convincing as a physical and cerebral presence. Harrison Ford is also fantastic as Graff as he finds a great balance between compassionate father figure and a whatever it takes commander. The bullies of the film also straddle the line of being convincing and being a cartoon, and if it had tipped into the later it could have ruined the tension. Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley also deliver fine work in limited roles, but I wish I had gotten to know more about each; especially Davis. Abigail Breslin and Hailee Steinfeld neither get an opportunity to show off their Academy Award level talents either, and it’s kind of amazing this film works so well with so many good actors going untapped of their full potential.

Lauren: What Zac said. Even with what little Davis gives, I managed to love her character because she was the side of morality that did help bring what I keep going on and on about into the film, even if only to a smaller level. Not that this should be surprising, Davis is a pimp. It should speak to everyone cast that I was just sad that we didn’t get more time with them.

To wrap this up, I just want to reiterate that even with all of my complaining, I still found the film adaptation of Ender’s Game entertaining in its own right, and obviously Zac loved it; just consider taking it further by reading the book afterward to get another take on the story. That’s all I ask.

Lauren’s Final Grade: B-/B
Zac’s Final Grade: A-

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