Ender’s Game opened up earlier this month and I finally got the chance to go see it last week with my dad. (Kind of unrelated- we went on a Wednesday afternoon and had the theater to ourselves. No talking, no phones, no other distractions or irritations. Pure, unadulterated pleasure.)
The movie was good but I can’t say that it was particularly a good book adaptation. Sometimes large deviations from the original source improves a movie and sometimes following the book too closely results in a dry and boring film. But I felt that they tried to fit too much of the book in that could have been left out or shortened while leaving out some of the best parts of the book that could have been better used on the screen.
If you haven’t read the book, Ender’s Game tells the story of a future Earth when space travel is normal and the International Fleet is the premiere military force. Fifty years previously, an alien race attacked the Earth and ever since the International Fleet (the I.F.) has been working desperately to destroy the Formics, the buggers, and to save the human race. Andrew (Ender) Wiggin, a 6 year with phenomenal intelligence and military strategy skills, has been chosen as the best hope the Earth has and so goes to Battle School for an accelerated education to be ready to lead the entire I.F. when it reaches the Formics’ home world.
The majority of the book, from Ender first going to battle school until the end of the war, takes place over 4 or 5 years. Which means when the main action ends, Ender is still only about 12. So we’re seeing a child deal with the grief, the loneliness, and the despair that comes from someone far too young being put in a position of isolation and leadership. Unfortunately, yet understandably, this was one of the major changes from book to film. The movie takes about 2 months and Ender is already a preteen when we meet him. While it still makes him too young to have to fairly worry about the fate of the world, it’s not nearly as heartbreaking or shocking as a 6 year old. Ideally preteens should be waking up to the world around them and realizing that their family/friends are not all there is to the world. But trying to find a six year old that could play the part well would be difficult, to say the least.
The best scenes in the movie are also the best scenes in the book and that is, of course, the battle room. In the book, we see Ender’s genius here- trying things no one has ever thought of and beating the older children spectacularly. These scenes are truly crucial to understanding Ender and his actions because they show his ingenuity, his recklessness, and his leadership excellence. Unfortunately in the movie we see only a little of this.
If you haven’t read the book, I recommend it highly. There are several sequels and companion novels published including some that tell the story of Ender’s friends and some that take place long after the events in this book. I have only read Ender’s Shadow, which tells the story of Bean, but other books I have read by Orson Scott Card have all been wonderful. While I can’t recommend the movie as highly as the book, it won’t be a waste of time or money to see it. The best thing to do (as always with book adaptations) is to leave your expectations at the door.