First some background information.
Ender’s Game is, for good reason, considered one of the best sci-fi books out there. Orson Scott Card (OSC) wrote the book in 1985 and it is what catapulted him into fame, despite the fact that most people who have read his fantasy work have told me that they prefer that over Ender’s Game. Personally I found Ender’s Shadow to be superior to Ender’s Game but thought both were good reads and a really interesting introduction to sci-fi. Card has continued to write in that universe and many others. However, he has also diverted off the path of just being a writer and is also using his name and money to support and promote other causes, primarily anti-LGBT and equality campaigns. His name is big enough, the amount of money he’s spent large enough and the timing of the movie is just right so that equality and LGBT activists have called for a boycott of any and everything that Card has touched. Really, Card has said a lot of stuff over the years and supported enough groups that are against the rights of others that I can think of very view people I know who wouldn’t offend Card. So then the question I must answer is why did I go to see the movie? Two things: The first is that he will not get enough money from my ticket to make up for me not wanting to support a new sci-fi film. We aren’t seeing enough of those coming from Hollywood and there’s a chance that if this one does well then they’ll look at doing others. Hopefully those others won’t include a writer who is as much of a dick as Card is. The second is that I was really curious to see if they’d be able to pull it off. Ender’s Game is such an internally driven book where few of the motivations can be easily played out by anyone and it would be ridiculous to have a character do voice over through most of the movie just to explain what’s going on.
For those like me who don’t like the idea of supporting Card much at all but do want to see the movie you can always donate money or your time to a GLBT/human rights group. You could do that even if you don’t go and see the movie, too.
Right, so the review part.
To get it out of the way – I did not like it as an adaptation of the book Ender’s Game. However, if it were just a standalone movie that took its cue from the book I’d find most of it to be pretty cool, good even. That was not the case though. Consider yourselves warned, there be spoilers beyond this point.
SPOILERS I TELL YOU! SPOILERS! (I hope that sounded as cool in your head as it did in mine.)
Ender Wiggin is not just smart, he’s a genius on par with Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark. Actually, all of the kids that were candidates for battle school are geniuses like that. It was never made clear in the movie that these kids are waaaaaaay more intelligent than their teachers. It wasn’t made clear that they were all expected to be able to fight as much with their bodies as their brains. It also wasn’t made clear that they spent a long time on the battle school. It wasn’t clear that these kids start at 5 or 6 years old and don’t leave until they’re between twelve and fourteen. Yeah, they had to compress some of that in the movie, okay, I’ll give them that. But there is no way in this world that they could have compressed it to fit into less than a year and that they had twenty eight days from the last Dragon battle to the start of the “real” war like what was displayed on their countdown timer of doom. That made the whole thing even less likely. That was the point that I decided they really didn’t know what they were doing.
Oh, it was never made clear either that these students were expected to be able to kill and that it was one of the things that got them into battle school, that ability to do so. Ender got in because he killed the first kid. He stayed in and was recognized as the person they were looking for because he killed Bonzo but hated himself from the moment that he realized he was going to do it. Bonzo didn’t trip, he was killed. If they had done those sequences right then the dialogue with Valentine where she tells him that he isn’t like Peter because he has to be able to love someone before he can kill them would make so much more sense. As it is they just sort of hang there.
Once the movie goes up to the battle school, we’re up there and never hear anything more about what’s going on down on the ground. There was so much politicking going on down there and Ender’s siblings were THE movers and shakers. They did so much and there wasn’t even a nod to it in the movie. Bah!
They decided to compress all of the “simulated” battles to less than a half-dozen, okay, fine, I can understand that. However, there was no reason whatsoever to move EVERYONE to a planet outside the solar system! They even threw around the word ansible and communication even if they didn’t explain it. Being closer to the fight meant nothing AND it got rid of the point that this whole damn thing had been planned years and years and years in advance. The *only* reason for making that change was so Ender could walk outside his little safe place and find the queen’s egg, which screwed up the ending in so many ways I can’t count them all. The way they showed Ender finding the random Queen egg just laying around WITH a dying queen to protect it did two things: showed that there were probably more formics living in other places and that Ender didn’t complete genocide and made the entire fleet appear to be entirely incompetent for not making sure the area around their base was clear, at least far enough that a kid couldn’t walk for a few minutes and run into a formic. You know, an alien that has a strong history of trying to kill humans without asking any questions? GAH! That was just bad. Bad, bad, bad.
A few things they almost got right – the relationship between Ender and Petra. I think Hollywood actually wanted to make it into a love thing but someone came by and said “no, that’s going to get you killed more than this whole Card thing is,” so they didn’t. Instead they made it borderline, which I can deal with. Petra rescues Ender, makes him look awesome and they work well as a team. Alai gets named and the lesson he teaches Ender about peace is there. Bean is mentioned though it’s more like the screenwriters were told to name one of the kids “Bean” and to make him smaller and spin around in the battle room.
Oh the battle room. You know, I will forgive them for how they portrayed it. Yeah, fine, they completely screwed up with the design of the school and how the battle room was supposed to look and how the whole gravity thing worked there. I never expected them to get it right anyway. However, I do think that the visuals we got from their version was pretty damn awesome and much more visually pleasing than the big white/gray/black room that I had from the book. I don’t think movie audiences would have been satisfied with a battle room that was true to the books.
I’ll even give them the few battles they showed. They did a lot better will all of that than I had expected them to. I hope to see some of the things they learned from filming those scenes pop up in other movies because it was really fun.
I’ve totally lost all my steam here, so I’m just going to leave it at my previous assessment. If I hadn’t gone in knowing it was supposed to be Ender’s Game it would have been a whole hell of a lot better. Generic space sci-fi movie gets 4/5 stars, Ender’s Game adaptation gets 1.5/5 stars. They intentionally got too many things wrong for me to give it any higher of a rating.