“Ender’s Game”: Entertaining, Shallow

by Brook Gardner-Durbin

I have always felt it is unfair to judge a film adaption of a book by its original text. Any film may have to deviate from its source material for any number of reasons — ranging from budget to time constraints, to the fact that many ideas don’t translate well from the page to the screen.

In essence, I don’t think it makes sense to judge a movie like “Ender’s Game” based on anything it altered from the book; it is better to judge it on its own merits and terms. The film is fairly accurate to the parts of the book it does show, but if you go in expecting an exact translation, you’re going to be disappointed.

“Ender’s Game” is an futuristic adventure movie about Andrew Ender Wiggin, a brilliant child about ten years old, who is trained to command Earth’s military forces. Aliens attacked Earth in the film’s past and a second attack is expected. Believing the best defense to be a good offense, Earth’s military higher-ups attempt to attack the alien’s planet and wipe them out before they can do the same to humanity.

The true core of “Ender’s Game,” however, isn’t Ender learning to become a brilliant commander who can lead Earth’s forces to victory against overwhelming odds — it is about Ender’s attempt to balance himself between his siblings while surviving bullies, isolation and an innumerable moral dilemmas. His brother, Peter, was booted from Battle School for being too aggressive; while his sister, Valentine, washed out for the opposite problem. Ender feels trapped between them, as he goes to great lengths to avoid fights, but uses devastating tactics to win any fight he is forced into (that sound you hear is the Foreshadowing Stick beating you over the head).

It has been forty-five years since “2001: A Space Odyssey,” close to forty since “Star Wars: A New Hope” and thirty-four since “Alien” … it doesn’t seem like we should be impressed by special effects anymore, but we still are. There are several shots of the children of Battle School — floating in zero gravity in a glass-walled space station, as Earth floats past them below, ignored — which will take your breath away.

Other visuals echo recent films like “Minority Report,” “Prometheus” and “Gravity” without seeming derivative. Director Gavin Hood (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) does a good job of letting the special effects serve the story (instead of the other way around) with one exception: a comically bad, slow-motion shot of Ender throwing and catching two guns, then proceeding to shoot down half the opposing forces as he spins, arms wide. It makes you wonder if Gavin lost a bet to whoever directs the “Fast and Furious” movies and had to let them shoot a scene.

While “Ender’s Game” has many small problems to quibble about, the main complaint is that it seems rushed. Every character, other than Ender, is reduced to a two-dimensional cutout, several relationships are clipped, explanations are rushed through and Ender seems to go from a scared kid to confidently commanding an army in less than a month. All-in-all, though, “Ender’s Game” get’s a final grade of a B-.