By Kayley Erlandson
In the not-too-distant future, the people of Earth suffered a nearly cataclysmic attack from marauding alien insects called the Formics. Since this attack nearly 50 years prior, Earth has been hand-selecting talented children to train in their universal Battle School, where the seeds of potential military greatness are sown.
Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) oversees the training of these child soldiers and chooses a lanky, intuitive 12-year-old named Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) to groom for command of the entire human fleet. Ender shows enough intelligence, instinct, and tactical prowess to become a leader for the humans in their impending war with the Formics.
Ender isn’t quite a hardened general yet. He feels empathy for the enemies that threaten him, be they school-yard bullies or space bugs.
In order to prepare Ender for actual battle and to “toughen him up,” Colonel Graff constantly provides challenges for the boy in the form of military “games” that the child soldiers all participate in. But can Ender win the biggest game of all: the game for Earth’s survival?
When I was still a teenager, my cousin gave me his tattered copy of Ender’s Game, promising me that I would love it. Although I was skeptical, that same tattered book is now proudly sitting on my bookshelf and is a story I enjoy revisiting again and again. The characters are richly developed, the action is descriptive and engaging, and for a 1985 book, it was visionary in the content and plot devices it chose to use to advance the narrative (for instance, Ender plays a complex simulated video game that explores his psyche).
The film’s biggest weakness is its attempt to condense the book into a two-hour movie. In the book, Ender begins battle school at age six and ends as a 12-year-old, whereas the movie spans approximately one year. This difference in itself was not a weakness, but just showcases how compressed the book was compared to the film. This lack of time to spend on the relationships between the characters or characterization in general was sorely lacking in the movie.
The urgency and complexity of the humans’ situation also isn’t as apparent in the movie, and some of the thought-provoking undertones and nuances were lost in translation. The scope of the book felt much grander, and the twist ending was much more obvious when viewing it on the big screen.
That said, I was not disappointed with the movie. Seeing the Battle Room scenes brought to life was breathtaking and all of the child actors hold their own against some stellar adult performances. Asa Butterfield does a marvelous job as Ender and as a Han Solo fan, it’s always nice to see Harrison Ford reprise his role as “gruff man in space.”
While some of the complex issues from the book didn’t translate to the big screen completely or fully realized, I found it amazing that some of these issues and situations author Orson Scott Card wrote about in 1985 are still present in today’s society: the use of simulations to train soldiers for war, the morality of child soldiers, and preemptive strikes.
In what feels like a potentially grand, sweeping space saga, it felt like the movie, much like Ender, just wasn’t given enough time to grow into its spacesuit.
Have you read the book Ender’s Game? What were your thoughts on it compared to the movie version?