Ender’s Game is the most skillful adaptation of a novel to film I’ve ever seen. The movie makes all the right decisions and the result is a wildly engaging film.
Ender’s Game takes place 70 years after the Earth was attacked by an alien race called the Formics. The insect-like aliens swarmed the planet, nearly wiping out mankind in a first-contact war. Humanity survived, and the Formic retreated to their home planet. The governments of Earth adopted a culture of war, and began raising children as cadets, grooming the best to become leaders in the fleets and armies of mankind.
Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (played by Asa Butterfield) is one of the most brilliant of these child soldiers, and he’s being groomed to be the supreme commander of humanity’s space fleets. Watched constantly by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), and psychoanalyzed by Major Anderson (Viola Davis), Ender is selected to be fast-tracked to Battle School, an orbiting space station where children study space combat tactics. The administration quickly places Ender at odds with the rest of the school, hoping that the opposition will forge him into the ultimate tactician. Ender must master the Battle Room, a massive zero-G combat arena, while surviving the other students and the military commanders who would exploit his brilliance to fight a final war against an unstoppable enemy.
Ender’s Game is based on the classic novel of the same name by Orson Scott Card, a book I grew up with. Attempts have been made to adapt the novel into a film many times in the past, but all prior attempts failed in the script stage. After seeing the final result, I’m very glad that the film waited for the perfect combination of script, actors and effects. The film strikes a fine balance between practical and computer-generated effects, leading to convincing scenes in the Battle Room. The zero-gravity maneuvers are beautiful and brutal and absolutely authentic.
Director Gavin Hood focused on getting evocative acting from the child actors in the film, especially from Asa Butterfield. While Viola Davis and Harrison Ford have some scenes that show off their acting chops, the focus is squarely on the child actors. It would have been tempting to devote more camera time to Han Solo, but resisting this temptation proves to be the right choice and Hood should be commended for it. This also shows why choosing older actors was the right decision for the film. As the novel opens, Ender is only 6 years old; I think we can all agree such a film would never work. Asa Butterfield manages to pull off the role of a young brilliant kid without seeming absurdly childish or like a teen heartthrob.
Any film working with a novel of this caliber must participate in the cruel calculus of determining what elements to cut from the book. This where Ender’s Game script makes all the right choices. Fans of the book may find themselves wishing more time were spent in the Battle Room, but only for a moment. The film propels towards more action and succeeds at every turn. The script deftly truncates elements of the book that don’t fit into the film. Even though I strongly recommend the film, I will gladly recommend the book to those who want to enhance the experience.
Ender’s Game opens today, November 1st. I give Ender’s Game 5 out of 5 stars.