Comparing a film to the book on which it’s based is always a tricky task, as we all have our own mental visualization of how a story looks. My hopes for the feature adaptation of Ender’s Game were high, but I left the screening thinking that Gavin Hood’s adaptation did about as good a job as it could have with the source material, turning Orson Scott Card’s story into a movie without compromising the core message or the lead character. Ender’s Game isn’t a perfect movie, nor is it a page-by-page adaptation of the book, but it does the novel justice, delivering stunning visuals and much of the powerful message Card sends in the novel.
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers from the Ender’s Game book and movie! If you’re looking for a review that’s mild on spoilers, read our official review here.
Trailers for Ender's Game have been playing up the war and alien invasion side of the story, pushing visual effects more than anything and not being entirely clear about the story. Though I knew plenty about the intentions of the film, having spoken to the cast, director and producers, I still felt a growing concern that everything we were seeing in the trailers was an indication that impressive special effects would be the best thing we might be able to say about the adaptation, and that the story would come second (or not really at all). Hopes were high, but my expectations for the final product weren't quite so. The director and producers can tell you what they want for a movie, but there's no guarantee that the finished product will deliver. Fortunately, in the case of Ender's Game, it really does. And I'm not sure they could have adapted it any better.
The movie doesn’t try to be a perfect adaptation of the book. There are a few memorable moments and plots left out entirely, Peter and Valentine’s Demosthenes and Locke story included. But I don’t want to do a point-by-point list of what was changed, because I don’t really have any objections to them. Sure, they aged the kids up, but that seems like it would be necessary to condense the timeframe of the story. And the message board plot in the book did a nice job to set a more political tone to the story and add some Earth-set context to the Formic war, but the central story doesn’t change without it. And I could’ve watched Battle Room scenes for hours, but let’s face it, there’s a story to tell, so it seems necessary that the filmmakers condense Ender’s progression through Battle School, which unfortunately means we only get a couple Battle Room scenes. What we do get from those scenes pays off with some incredible visuals, including that breathless moment when Ender stares out into the zero gravity Battle Room for the first time, realizing he has to be the one to take the first blind leap.
As I mentioned, the trailers for the film went out of their way to push the visual effects and war aspect of the story, and having seen the movie in IMAX, I can understand why, as the film seems to be one great visual scene after another, separated only by Battle and Command school scenes that paint a detailed picture of the setting Card created for his story. The movie really does well to emphasize the setting as much as it does the story. Readers should appreciate the look and feel of Battle School and the occasional Earth-set scene emphasizing the futuristic backdrop of this story as much as they do the incredible battle scenes that fill the intense final act. But the story remains intact throughout. Ender is introduced to us as a target for bullies but a strategic genius. When he goes to Battle School, Graff makes sure that target remains on his back. pushing Ender to rise above with every challenge he faces until it’s time for him to lead.
The trailers for the film teased very little about Ender’s underdog status, but the movie does include a number of key moments there, including Ender being bullied when he gets his monitor off, and his struggles to acclimate himself to Battle School. That includes being immediately disliked by Bonzo the moment he’s promoted to Salamander Army, and the horrific shower scene that literally had me gasping even though I knew what was coming. If you’re worried that the film will hold back on violence, don’t be. There isn’t a major fight sequence between Ender and Bonzo, but to say that the outcome of the altercation is unsettling would be an understatement.
I get a bit more critical after the jump...