Warning: Spoilers. But I don’t feel bad about it because if you’ve read the book then you already know what happens. And if you haven’t read the book, why are you reading a review of the movie? Go read the book!
With all the present hype over books like The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and Divergent it can be easy to forget one small book from 1985. Ender’s Game, originally published as a short story in 1977, is one of the first and most significant science fiction books for young adults. The story takes place in Earth’s future, after attacks from an insect alien species. In order to protect Earth from further attacks, the leaders of the International Fleet (IF) select the best and the brightest children to participate in training and competitions. One of these children is Ender Wiggin.
Ender enters ‘Battle School’ at a very young age, but his strategic genius becomes quickly apparent. However, as the third child in his family in a country with a two-child policy, Ender faces isolation and abuse from other students. His talent and success also alienates him and makes him enemies. In one instance, a bully corners him and Ender fights back. He injures the boy badly, inflicting a wound that proves fatal. Ender tells IF leader Colonel Graff that he beat the boy excessively in order to prevent any future attack. This kind of strategic answer prompts Graff to move Ender up to a higher level. In this new program, Ender commands a company of misfits that he turns into the top company in the program.
After this, IF moves Ender to ‘Command School’, where he and several of his company members participate in simulated skirmishes against the aliens. Eventually, Ender comes to the final test. He succeeds, destroying the pretend alien planet only to discover that it wasn’t pretend. The ‘simulations’ were real, and Ender has actually destroyed the alien planet and effectively won the war. Now Ender feels the weight of his actions, guilt ridden and depressed over destroying a species, especially after he realizes that they were sentient creatures able to communicate telepathically. Ender, however, is offered a chance of redemption. He finds the eggs of a queen of the insect alien species and decides to find a safe planet for the species to repopulate.
Without changing anything significant, the movie captures the essence of the book. One of the best aspects of the story that the movie portrays is Ender, in both his empathy and viciousness. In the book, Ender is presented as a contrast between his violent brother and his compassionate sister, a contrast that the movie balances well. Much of this is due to the impressive acting of the then fifteen-year-old Asa Butterfield. Butterfield portrays Ender’s violent side but also stirs his audience’s emotions with his empathetic side. Much of best acting is in the subtle mannerisms he uses to show Ender’s strategic mind and internal struggle between violence and peace. Ender also represents a classic child character, one beset by bullies, isolation, and self-identity issues who manages to rise above his challenges to create a successful team out of misfits, make friends, and ultimately become the commander of the IF military forces.
Another spectacular aspect of the film is the visuals. The Battle School is located in space, and the battle practice simulations take place in zero gravity. These battle competitions are fun to watch, and the uniforms, space environment, and technology give the film a real sci fi feel that fans of the book will enjoy. The stunning visuals, however, do not detract from the story. Harrison Ford and Viola Davis give excellent performances. The young actors who play Ender’s friends and sub-commanders also do a good job with their roles. And at the heart of the film is a deep and meaningful story about grand themes like war and peace, but also the story of a boy struggling to find his true purpose.
Readers can rest assured that the movie Ender’s Game is a rather faithful adaptation of the book. Orson Card, the author, was involved in the filmmaking process, and Gavin Hood (the director and writer) did an excellent job with the screenplay. Some things were cut, including much of the storyline of Ender’s brother Peter and his sister Valentine, but everything essential to the story and Ender’s character development remains. The movie characterizes Ender extraordinarily well, and does a good job handling the tension of the war and Ender’s internal struggle. This is definitely one of the better book-to-movie adaptations I have seen in a while, and it is also a good movie. People who love the book and people who have never read it will enjoy this film.