As I nestled into my cinema seat last night, the lights dimmed, the noise level dropped and a fleeting worry crossed my mind. Are they going to be able to get Ender Wiggin’s internal machinations out of his head and onto the screen? They were the most interesting parts of the novel and without them, the story simply would not function. The good news is that Gavin Hood’s Ender’s Game adaptation mostly gets it right. The bad news is that I included the word ‘mostly’ in the last sentence.
• Director: Gavin Hood
• Exhibition: 2D
• Rating: 12A
• Run Time: 114 mins
For the uninitiated, Ender’s Game is set years in the future, after Earth has been attacked by a bug-like alien race known as the Formics, or Buggers. Humanity barely survived the assault, which was ended mysteriously by one soldier – Mazer Rackham. Years later, Ender Wiggin, a brilliant but conflicted young boy, is inducted by Colonel Hyrum Graff of the International Fleet into Battle School – an orbiting military school used to train young people into becoming Battle Commanders in the mould of Rackham. Through isolation, overwhelming zero-gravity battles and continuous stress, Ender is practically tortured into becoming the leader they need to hit back at the enemy threat.
When adapting any book where the majority of the plot exposition happens inside a character’s head, it is imperative that you externalise it successfully. Hood wore the director and screenwriter hats for this production so the majority of this responsibility fell to him. By using Graff and Anderson’s conversations to explain Ender’s actions, he mostly succeeds. The problems arise in the rather clunky dialogue used to achieve that goal.
Casting some of the best talent available at the moment helps to elevate the movie beyond its often-times stilted script. Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin all add far more to their characters than the dialogue allows. Butterfield deserves a special mention as he embodies the intelligence and underlying violence of Ender particularly well. The interplay between him and the weaker child actors is a lost cause however.
Besides the patchy script, the production values throughout the rest of the movie are good. The score hits all the right notes, staying quiet when it has to and adding gravitas when it needs to. The visual effects are well done too, especially in the battle room. In fact, I was hoping for more action there as when the story moves to deep space, the battles feel a little hollow in comparison.
Having read some of the books, I was able to follow the story more easily than the rest of the audience but even I noticed the lack of explanation some points got. These were explained in the book but the necessary screen-time was not devoted to it in the movie. For instance, when Ender finds himself under the tutelage of Mazer himself, the audience immediately ask themselves “If he is still alive, why do they need Ender?” (By the way, this isn’t a spoiler as Kingsley is on the poster!)
Ender’s Game is actually quite a comprehensive adaptation, in the sense that most of the main points in the book are covered. However, more care should have been given to the characters and some of the more salient plot points. Regardless of these issues, I enjoyed Ender’s Game. However, the old adage will have to be rolled out – the book is far better.