03 November 2013

The Enemy Gate is Down

This is a spoiler-filled review of the film Ender's Game. (Please note that I am not going to get into any discussion on the author, Orson Scott Card, especially related to his politics and religious beliefs.)

The film was okay. It seemed... simple, I guess. I know it'd be hard to get all the nuances of the book onto the screen, but I was bummed with how it turned out. At the same time, I was amazed at what was pulled off. As a stand alone film, it was quite engaging, or at least I assume it would be. But I've only just finished listening to the audiobooks, so the differences were disappointing to say the least.

First of all, it seemed to move too fast. The novel takes place over several years. Ender is 6 at the beginning and around 11 at the end. The film seemed to take up only about a month's worth of time. Which is really quite implausible considering the task at hand. The children had to learn not only basic school studies, but also tactical maneuvers and how to work together as a unit. I understand that it would be hard to film a kid growing up, but I also think that they may have chosen a slightly too old kid. Yes, Asa Butterfield's performance was strong, and he looks quite young. However, he was 14 or so during filming and he's quite tall, which made some of the fights seem not as momentous as in the book. In the book, fighting the bullies and winning was a big deal because he wasn't bigger than them in any way. He had to use his brain to find ways to overcome them.

Another thing I missed in the film was Peter and Valentine's deeper roles. I realize that it was unnecessary for the film to have anything to do with them, but it didn't really drive home how awful Peter was and how good Val was. How Ender wanted to be nothing like Peter in any way. And it skipped all of Peter and Val's writing to become influential on earth; which was not needed for the film, but still quite interesting, as they were just as smart as Ender, but not suited for Battle School.

I think that they used the phrase "The enemy's gate is down" in much to trite a manner. We didn't get to see how Ender reoriented the Battle Room to fit this idea. How he had his soldiers attack feet first to make smaller targets, and now none of the other Armies could figure out his tactics. It made the phrase nearly meaningless when Bean reminded Ender of it at the beginning of the final battle.

There are things I did like about the film. The performances were quite good. Asa Butterfield embodied much of the Ender I imagined as I read. He showed confidence and strength of character. He did reveal a lot more emotion in the film; but in the book, we were inside his head, reading about his anguish and lonliness. He never expressed it. It would have been impossible to portray that onscreen. Butterfield also handled an American accent quite nicely. That's got to be hard. Harrison Ford made a perfectly dispassionate Col. Graff. I loved the changes they made to Major Anderson; choosing Viola Davis for the part was perfect. And Ben Kingsly! At first I was worried after seeing promotional photos of his tattooed face. I worried about cultural appropriation and the like, though I knew the character Mazer Rackham was from New Zealand. But the simple fact that Kingsly used a spot-on Kiwi accent washed all those misgivings away. He was perhaps my favorite part.

I also very much enjoyed the film visually. The simulations were amazing. I wanted to see much more of those. The Battle Room was also quite awesome, though not as I had imagined. I imagined a stark white room. No views anywhere at Battle School. But I liked the visuals of space and earth. I wish they'd showed more battles there as well.

So I was disappointed that the film left out a lot of beloved details. It seemed rushed. But I did enjoy it. Let me know what you thought if you've seen it.

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