Thursday, October 31, 2013

“Ender’s Game” – Finally.

If you are like me and the millions of people who have read the novel Ender’s Game, your two-decade-plus wait for the film adaptation is finally over. I’m not going to go into the details of why it’s taken so long to make this film because Matt Patches at Grantland’s Hollywood Prospectus has already done that. If you haven’t read the novel, then you have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m not one to indulge in hyperbole (well, most of the time, at least), so when I tell you that it is arguably the best science fiction novel ever written, I’m not just saying that because it’s my favorite book. Plus, a quick read of the wiki page tells you I’m not exaggerating. It won the two most prestigious awards in science fiction literature when it was first published (the Nebula and Hugo awards). In 1999, it was #59 on the reader’s list of Modern Library 100 Best Novels. That’s not just science fiction; that’s all novels. Since March 1 of this year, it’s #16 on Amazon’s top selling books – and it was published in 1985. So, if you haven’t read it yet and you have even the tiniest liking of science fiction, you need to stop reading this review and go read that book. I’m not joking. Go. Now.

Now that you’ve read the book, I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is if you enjoyed the book, you will find disappointment while watching the film. I know that’s a cliché when talking about film adaptations of most books, but that’s because it’s true. There simply is no possible way they could satisfy the book’s fans with a two hour movie. Hell, the fans of Lord of the Rings weren’t even fully satisfied with THIRTEEN hours of film adaptation and those films were phenomenal. I’m not a big fan of splitting books into multiple movies, but Ender’s Game really should have been two movies. Then again, if you read the above linked-to article, we should all be thrilled that they finally pulled off any movie at all.

The good news is that the disappointment is in wanting more of the book in the film, not because the film screwed anything up (just like the complaints about Lord of the Rings). The film is actually one of the best adaptations of book material I’ve seen in a long time, mostly because they didn’t try to modify anything for the sake of drama or romance or any of the other film elements that get forced into screenplays. Whether it was due to the fans’ love for the book or the long, difficult road to a screenplay; they ended up essentially just letting the book and its story write itself. So, when you find yourself getting upset at the lack of Battle School battle scenes, just remember two is better than none.

If you ignored my advice and still didn’t read the book, the story takes place on an Earth that has fought a war against an alien race known as the Formics. Though the humans defeated the Formics, they fear another invasion, so they began training young genius children at an orbiting space station called the Battle School, hoping to find their next commander. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is one of those children and the story follows him as he deals with isolation, bullying, and expectations that he is going to save the human race. Given the limited length of the film, the writer (Gavin Hood) does an excellent job of portraying Ender’s tactical abilities, but also reminding us that Ender is just a child. After winning a battle or standing up to a bully, Ender shows his emotions by smiling at his friends or crying to his sister, always looking the child that he is. And, kudos to Butterfield for pulling off a convincing portrayal of a very complex character.

Along with Butterfield, Harrison Ford (Colonel Graff), Viola Davis (Major Anderson), and Ben Kingsley (Mazer Rackham) also turned in convincing portrayals of their respective characters, along with the host of other child actors playing other recruits. The only casting decision that gives me pause was Abigail Breslin as Ender’s sister, Valentine. That’s not to say she was bad, quite the opposite in fact, but her character’s part was whittled down to nothing more than a hugging machine and shoulder for Ender to cry on. Casting Breslin in that role is almost a complete waste of her very considerable talent and far more expensive than an unknown actor.

On that note, you will also be disappointed if you are expecting to see the storylines revolving around Valentine and Peter (Ender’s brother). Like Valentine, Peter exists in this film solely as character development for Ender, in his case to beat up on Ender before Ender leaves. But again, this is okay since those storylines don’t really play into this part of Ender’s story.

What I really want you to take from this review is that I thought the movie was very good despite the fact that my expectations were as high for this film as any film I’ve ever looked forward to seeing. I was terrified that they were going to change things from the book, miscast the characters, screw up the battle room, add a romantic component, or even change the ending (at one point in its long production, that was a real possibility). While I think the movie could have used another forty-five to sixty minutes, that’s me just wanting to see more of the Battle Room, more of the final simulations, and more of the Giant game. If you don’t feel the same way when the film is over, then you didn’t heed my earlier advice and you are missing out on a truly great book.

Rating: This movie is worth multiple viewings at full price. The more times you see it, the more likely it is we’ll get the sequels and sooner than another twenty-plus years.

No comments:

Post a Comment