When a movie adaptation of a book hits theatres, my reaction is always mixed; I know that I’ll inevitably compare the film to the book. Ender’s Game, a science fiction flick that opened on November 1, appealed to me precisely for this reason. It’s based on Orson Scott Card’s novel of the same name, a book I enjoyed for its complexity and originality.
The plot unfolds sometime in Earth’s future—a future in which insect-like aliens have launched two failed attempts at conquering Earth. The second time, the humans were nearly defeated and were only victorious thanks to the brilliance of the military commander Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley). To ensure Earth will be better prepared should the Formics return for a third assault, Earth resorts to recruiting the most intelligent children around the world and training them in military strategy from an uncomfortably young age in the hopes of creating another Mazer Rackham.
The story begins when Andrew “Ender” Wiggins (Asa Butterfield), the young protagonist singled out as especially promising for this role, is finally cleared to attend Battle School, a special training facility designed to breed brilliant military strategists. The film chronicles Ender’s journey to this special school where he must overcome the grueling challenges he faces continually at the hands of Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis), both tasked with moulding him into the greatest military commander in history.
Director and screenwriter Gavin Hood made a smart choice in simplifying the book’s complicated multiple storylines and bringing out the core message of the story: the negative psychological effects of warfare. The action unfolds primarily through Ender’s perspective, and his inner thoughts and subtle details about his new environment are conveyed to the audience through the letters he sends to his sister, Valentine (Abigail Breslin), back on Earth. The film also incorporates discussions between Graff and Anderson about Ender and his progress in order to show the audience how high the stakes are. The two different perspectives come together to effectively emphasize the sheer desperation of the human race, as well as the complex ethical dilemma in grooming children to master the art of war at such a tender age. Card summed it up nicely himself: “As we watch the adults struggle to get control of Ender, we pity him because of what’s happening to him, but we want the adults to succeed.” The motifs of games and strategy are also used to great effect to portray the dangers of presenting war as just another game to be won.
Despite the film’s excellent handling of the philosophical and ethical concerns it raises, it fell short of the mark on a few details. As is usually the case with film adaptations of books, the film was very quick-paced and hardly paused to establish or develop important relationships between the characters. The believability of some events was also sacrificed in favour of speeding up the movie, and while it’s undeniable that Ender is a prodigy among prodigies, he triumphs too easily and without the nuances depicted in the book.
Overall, the film managed to achieve the classic balance required of adaptations and remain faithful to the original work while meeting the demands of a different medium. Its biggest success is that it’s not a fast-paced action flick disguised as sci-fi—amid the spaceships, gadgets, aliens, and stunning visual effects, this movie will definitely make you think. MMM