Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Movie Review - Ender's Game

The perennial sci-fi classic Ender's Game has been a book loved by readers for three decades and over the years there have been many rumors of the possibilities of movie adaptations of the story all of which were shot down by author Orson Scott Card due to creative differences. So when the movie project was finally recently green lit with a screenplay and cast, I was definitely stoked.

Any time you bring a book to the screen there are going to be plenty of trade offs. Even with Card's semi-prophetic sci-fi elements such as Ender's "desktop" or the Internet-like forums used by Valentine and Peter there were still a number of elements that definitely needed to rely on over the top special effects. Generally I was impressed by the effects and the natural way the various scenes in outer space felt realistic. The battle sequences and alien depictions didn't feel like over-the-top CGI and worked quite well.

Harrison Ford is truly detestable as Colonel Graff and while you end up finding his attitude deplorable you still get some of the conflict from the book where you know and realize that his actions were justified by the situation. In the book we see a lot of Colonel Graff's actions and dialog through sequences of abstract text and dialog that's held at a distance from the rest of the story. The cinematography managed a similar aspect by cutting aside to Graff's scenes and portraying him as heartlessly devoted to the only logical course of action.

While Colonel Graff ends up true to his book character, I felt like Ender got the short end of the stick. To an extent I felt like this was inevitable. A lot of the tension and growth in this book comes through the internal actions, observations and growth within Ender's own mind. Even without the internal psychological struggles the book also had a lot more depth in the elements exploring his state of mind such as his desktop game, the way he organized his fleet and his training and his interactions with those around him. There was so much material in the book that ended up cut from the script that in the end we get much more of Ender's action sequences and much less of his psychological growth. In my own reading I found the psychological changes as interesting as the heavy action sequences and I was sad to see them get less play in the movie. The result left me feeling like Ender was a decent character and he was a bright kid but he felt more disconnected from the plot and it was a little harder to get attached to his plight.

As to some of the more "minor" characters, while Ender got the short end of the stick, Valentine and Peter ended up with no stick at all. In the book they both have some huge sequences and an entire subplot all their own. This is entirely removed. Given the nature and depth of their subplot this was probably for the best based on the way the movie went since it would have been difficult to really portray all of what they were doing and also considering the fact that in the book the end result of their actions is still forthcoming. Other minor characters also felt slighted especially the other kids that Ender interacted with at school. In the book I was able to get attached to the personalities and characteristics of his platoon members. In the movie I only felt like Petra received similar treatment and even she felt somewhat interchangeable and just an add-on character. Even the treatment of Ben Kingsley as Rackham wasn't great. He was better depicted than some of the kids at Battle School but he certainly didn't achieve the kind of depth of Colonel Graff. His initial appearance was promising as he behaved similarly to his book character but that moment was short lived as we sprinted down the finish line to reach the end climax of the movie.

The overall story was good but felt rather rushed. This was largely due to skimming on the psychological portions of the story and just jumping into the action sequences. Even with the action sequences we received far less in terms of Ender's physical and mental growth as he practiced and engaged in the games in the Battle Room. We really only see a couple of battle and one training segment. While we do see a couple of cool ideas from Ender, we don't see his large tactical advances that excite Colonel Graff. There's a lot of moments where they are speaking about Ender's great tactical skill and his ability to win but I felt like we didn't get to see as much of the progression as we should have. Even a 5-minute montage of different battle and training scenes might have helped.

Overall I thought the movie was a fun sci-fi adventure and an adequate representation of the Ender's Game story. I just felt like it was missing a lot of the depth that was present in the book. Near the end of the movie Ender explicitly spells out the morale of the story. When told "We won! That's all that matters.", Ender emotionally replies "No. How we win matters". I think that same morale can be applied to the film. They adapted the film…but that's not all that matters. How they adapted it also matters. So while we ended up following the basic plot line and getting from point A to point B with a bit of training and a lot of battles with alien bugs, we missed the heart of the story by leaving out some critical elements that certainly could have been included in the film. While it's not a bad movie, it's just not as faithful an adaptation as could have been hoped for.

3 out of 5 stars

1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

i heard it was an ok movie...i think you gave it a fair review...i think it will be entertaining...certainly, like always the book is better....