I went to see Ender’s Game today ready for disappointment. When you see a film adaptation of a novel you think is great, there’s always the fear that they will slaughter it.
After waiting 20 years for Ender’s Game, I can sincerely say that I was not disappointed. Within the first ten minutes it became evident that it had been worth waiting for. The kind of technical advances necessary to film the story believably had finally arrived and the results were quite spectacular. In particular, the Battle Room scenes, which needed to be done in zero gravity, were very believable and exciting to watch.
But the success of this film doesn’t just come from the technical aspects. It is always difficult to render a movie version of a long novel, especially an epic one like Ender’s Game. I was delighted to see many of the intricacies and subtleties of the novel captured in the film, such as Ender’s ideas about how to understand your enemy. Certainly they were given brief treatment, and it’s quite possible that it was easier for me to spot them since I’ve read the book several times. But they were there and they added a certain depth to the movie. The overall plot was faithful to the book and captured all of the key elements.
There has been some criticism of Asa Butterfield’s acting job as Ender, but I really think that those critics have completely missed the point, and perhaps have not read the book. I clearly remember the first time I read the novel, thinking that Ender was a damaged, disconnected character. Ender is supposed to be different, distant, almost autistic in character, and Butterfield plays him perfectly, with just enough emotion to allow us some connection with him, but not too much. I don’t think I remember the same kind of performance in Hugo, so I have to assume that it was a deliberate play by the actor or the director or both. It’s exactly what the story calls for. Harrison Ford does a great job as Graff, being uncompromising as he’s pushing his young soldiers.
If the movie has a weakness it is that the other Battle School soldiers don’t have very deep personalities, but that is a minor disappointment. Sacrifices have to be made when adapting a novel to a script. Early articles about the movie suggested that Bean would play a greater part, but perhaps that will be in a sequel based on Ender’s Shadow, the parallel novel. The first half of the movie comes off a little jerky, almost like a documentary. But by the end you are totally captured by the story.
I would give this movie at least an A-, which is a lot higher than the 64% given by Rotten Tomatoes or the ** given by NOW Magazine. And I don’t think that I’m rating that highly because it is one of my favorite novels. If anything, that would make me more discriminating.