Sixteen reviews on books and short stories in the Ender’s Game universe later, Attack of the Books contributor Stephen Olson finally saw the movie, starring Ben Kingsley, Harrison Ford, and Asa Butterfield. While we don’t typically do movie reviews around here, we thought it appropriate to take a look at the flick after all the attention we’ve given the series over the last four months.
After years of rumors about an Ender’s Game movie finally came to fruition this year, I felt excited and apprehensive. I’ve loved some movie adaptations and hated others. The more I thought about Ender’s Game becoming a movie, the more I worried about that transition. Could such a complex and thoughtful book become a similarly satisfying movie?
In a word, no.
The two hours in the movie simply aren’t enough to convey everything that made the novel so great. Vast swaths of the original narrative are skipped over, including most of the philosophical content I enjoy so much. In particular, I hated to see so much of the training that made Ender a great leader disappear.
However, once I accepted that the movie did not intend to tell the complete story, I could enjoy it a lot more. I now think of it almost as an Ender’s Game-lite. By significantly shortening the story, the movie can instead focus on maintaining the feel of the story in a compact form. We see the events of the movie moving in a purposefully fast way. At first, I thought this was a narrative mistake, but the more I think about it, the more I’m sure it’s a conscious stylistic decision to jump from event to event so quickly. While it can feel somewhat choppy, I still enjoyed it.
Some changes to characters and their relationships bothered me a bit. Minor romantic tension between two of the main characters just seemed unnecessary and very Hollywood. I hate that every movie must include some variety of love story, whether it serves the plot well or not. Ender, who the book consistently says is younger and smaller than the people around him, is one of the tallest children in the Battle School. One key confrontation feels completely wrong because Ender stands head and shoulders above a character who in the book constantly makes derisive remarks about Ender’s size.
On the other hand, I did feel like each actor did their individual roles very well. Asa Butterfield does a great job of portraying Ender. I had never imagined Ender looking like he does in the film, but it works very well. Harrison Ford performs wonderfully as Hyrum Graff. One or two characters come off as overly strident, but not to the point of annoyance.
The movie makes various nods to deeper aspects of the books. For instance, Ender’s dad speaks with a slight accent and refers to having immigrated to America, a clear reference to “The Polish Boy“. I also noticed references to material and ideas in Ender’s Shadow, Speaker for the Dead, and Ender in Exile. While it feels somewhat weird that key events and ideas in Ender’s Game are missing while material outside of Ender’s Game creeps in, I do feel like it created a sense of continuity within the story.
Speaking of continuity, I expected that the numerous changes to the story would bother me, but in the end, I was able to accept that it’s telling the story in a new and different way. Just as the newer novels in the series make small changes to the overall narrative to make their stories work better, the film stands in its own separate continuity and I’m okay with that. In fact, I’d even enjoy seeing a sequel, whether it followed directly from one of the books or told an entirely new story.
In the end, “Ender’s Game” is a movie with various flaws. I never expected it to be perfect, I just expected it to convey a strong sense of Ender-ness. Despite various changes to the story, character modifications, and a far simplified narrative structure, “Ender’s Game” manages to deliver a good Ender story.
Stephen Olson teaches math at North Layton Junior High. When not teaching math, he polices the halls and library of his school, ensuring that students partake of only the best reading material. On the rare occasions he finds himself away from school, Stephen reads, writes, and writes about reading. You can follow him on Twitter @MathTeacherGuy or email him at mathteacherguyATgmailDOTcom.
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