My old man is quite a fan of “hard” science fiction. The sci-fi that I read as a teenager – Heinlein, Asimov, Dick and so on – was due to his influence. I remember him praising ‘Ender’s Game’ from time to time, but I never got around to reading it. While in college, an astonished friend bought me a paperback copy. Surprisingly, I couldn’t put it down. With great characters and a great story, I was hooked – that is, until the climax (or should I call it the “anti-climax”?). When I finished the book, I knew exactly why it hadn’t been made into a film yet: There’s no way that it would work cinematically. This Tuesday, I walked into an ‘Ender’s Game’ press screening as pessimistic as one could be. No one could make this story work, especially not the director of that awful ‘X-Men: Origins‘ movie. Much to my surprise, I walked out more satisfied with this than most of this summer’s blockbusters.
‘Ender’s Game’ is set in the near future after humankind has won an ‘Independence Day’-like war against a technologically advanced alien species. During the alien raid, after millions of humans had died, a fighter pilot pulled a Randy Quaid on their mothership for the win. (The only thing missing is Quaid’s line, “Hello, boys! I’m baaaaack!“) Fifty-something years later, humans are now hunting the alien race across the galaxy to stop them before they return with even an even bigger fleet.
In this future, it’s realized that children can more easily learn wartime tactics than adults, so children are recruited, trained and employed as humanity’s last great hope to defeat the bug-like aliens. Our story follows one of these kids, Ender Wiggin (‘Hugo‘ star Asa Butterfield), as he enters Battle School – an orbiting military space camp that weeds out the weak and trains Commanders. Their schooling consists of games that mimic realistic wartime battles – the best being a zero-gravity arena where small youth armies go head-to-head in laser fights. Does Ender have the chops to make it through training and become the next great leader that his superiors (Harrison Ford and Viola Davis) think he is? Is he the John Conner of this potentially grim future?
If you love the novel, you’ll be pleased to know that, as far as adaptations go, this screenplay is pretty faithful. The fan-favorite characters are all present, although they lack development. The visual effects are good, and the performances are just fine. Of course, sub-plots have been condensed and sped-up. Thank heaven, the elements that frustrated me about the novel’s climax have been adapted in a manner that not only made me like them more, but should pleased even die-hard fans.
‘Ender’s Game’ isn’t a brilliant movie, but it’s a good one. A summer release would have been more fitting than early November, but so long as there aren’t too many boycotters, it ought to do just fine at the box office this weekend.
[Editor’s Note: I will ask that Comments for this post be limited only to the content of the movie itself: its plot, its performances, its direction or visual effects, and so forth. Discussion about the controversy surrounding author Orson Scott Card should be directed to our poll post on that topic. Thank you. –JZ]