Review of Ender’s Game: The Movie

I’ve known for months that Ender’s Game would come out on November 1st, 2013. Perfect timing, I though. I knew I’d be in St. Louis visiting my parents, and that I’d have free, built-in baby-sitting as a result. (Hey, this is a real problem for some of us!) But four weeks to the day after the release date of the movie, it was showing in almost no theatres. That worried me.

I’ve read Ender’s Game twice. The first time was in college, the second (I think) right around the time I had my son, or about eight years ago. So I knew the book, but it wasn’t fresh in my mind, a combination that I felt would be perfect for enjoying a movie. I wouldn’t be as prone to nit-picking because they did this or that slightly different from the book. Those kinds of reviews frustrate me. I want to know if a movie has stand-alone merit, not if it was “true to the book” (whatever that means). But of course, it is hard to separate the two experiences.

As a movie, I found Ender’s Game to be extremely disappointing. And that was with me going in with low expectations. I mean, the book is a purely psychological story, so how do you put that on the screen? I had my doubts going in.

To give credit where it’s due, the movie makers did a fair job of helping us see what was going on in Ender’s mind. They did this through the use of supporting characters asking Ender pointed questions that he answered more readily than was entirely believable, but still… I understood the difficulty. They also showed us what was going on in Ender’s mind by spending a LOT more time with Colonel Graff and Major Anderson (psychologist), adults who were in the book pulling strings, but who had a lot more screen time in the movie than they had page time in the book. Their commentary on how Ender was progressing and what they planned to do with him next were probably the biggest clues to his psychological state.

So actually, my problem with this movie is NOT that they took a psychological book and tried to make it into an action flick. My problem with this movie is that it was too short. I just looked up the technical speds which claim it was 114 minutes long, but I looked at my watch and that time includes almost 15 minutes of previews and commercials — unless I somehow got to see a shorter version of the movie! The previews ended at 11:45. The movie ended at 1:25. Last I checked, that was 100 minutes, not 114.

Regardless, even eight years after reading the book, I felt like I was skimming it as I watched the movie. Obviously, Ender couldn’t spend 7 years in battle school as he did in the book because of aging problems. Nevertheless, he only had one battle as commander of Dragon Army. One?

There are techniques in film that help us see the passage of time. A fast stream of images, for example, which show a character becoming more and more strained over months of being put through more difficult tasks (which was what was theoretically happening). This movie did not use them, but it needed them desperately. It needed more individual moments, and it needed more …and time passes… and according to my watch, it had at least 20 more minutes to do that before it even his the two-hour mark! There was no reason for this movie to compress so much.

The acting was decent, the graphics were pretty, but I watch a movie for a good audio/visual story. And this could have been. Despite all my doubts going into it, the resulting script had the right tools in place to drive home the point of this book. But it lacked depth. Only by filling in the gaps with things I know from the book can I create a complete picture of what happened here.

This movie did not stand alone. If I had not read the book, I would probably think this was a story about a particularly brilliant leader. But this story was never about how clever Ender was. Heck, Bean was cleverer. (Eluded to in Ender’s Game and stated outright in Ender’s Shadow.) There was lip service given to the idea that Ender was chosen because he was a balance between his too-aggressive brother and his too-peaceful sister (both of whom met the intellectual requirements for battle school), but this dynamic drove the book. In the movie, they said it, but they never made me believe it. Frankly, Ender came across as very violent. There is a scene later in the movie that they changed from the book which I agree they had to change — but only because Ender was supposed to have snapped. And in the movie, he never snapped. So if it had gone off the way it had in the book, it would have just been more evidence of his violent tendencies. (Sorry for being vague — this would be a spoiler if I said it in detail. Those of you who have read/watched hopefully know what I mean.)

The ending to the movie set up sequels more forcefully than I recall the ending to the book having done, but then, it has been eight years. I did read those sequels, but only once, and I barely recall them. Maybe the movies will take the idea and go in a completely different direction, departing from the books entirely. I tend to think they’d be better off if they did. Trying to stick too closely to a book is usually what gets movie into trouble. I’m not sure that’s what happened here, I Just know that I felt like I was watching a boy play a nasty video game.

Posted in Book Reviews, ChitChat, Science Fiction.