Ender's Game Review: A Beautiful, Moving Adaptation

Gavin Hood is a true fan. He filmed an unfilmable story and he did it very, very well.

As you all probably know, I've been following this movie since principal production began in New Orleans. I visited the set in May of 2012 and left completely convinced that I had no reason to worry; Ender's story was in the hands of a group of fans and I believed there was no way I'd be disappointed come November. The closer we got to release, though, the more I began to contemplate what I would write on Ender News if I disliked it. Would I need to remain positive? Fudge the truth or be completely honest?

Fortunately I don't have to make that decision.

Crystal from EnderWiggin.net, Asa Butterfield (Ender), and Kelly (me!) from Ender News

I loved this film. I found it to be a beautiful, moving adaptation with the heart of the story and most of the key plot points preserved. It was entertaining, emotional, and the twist was done so well that even I -- who knew what was coming -- inhaled sharply when all was revealed.

First off, Asa Butterfield makes a moving, authentic Ender. I never doubted that he would be a convincing child genius but, as a smaller-framed actor, I was slightly afraid that he wouldn't be able to pull off that Peter-esque aggressive streak. However, he manages -- and very convincingly. And since the movie was filmed mostly in chronological order, you can definitely see him age and grow as time in the film passes which adds to his performance. He was vulnerable, he was intense, he was Ender. Butterfield absolutely killed it.

And then, the visuals: altogether it is a stunning visual experience. Garrett Warren's take on weightlessness is not only believable, but beautiful as well. While there are more Battle Room scenes than I actually thought we would get, you can't help but sigh when Ender heads back to Earth, knowing our time in null-g is over. The Command School training scenes are also impressive; everyone needs to see this film in IMAX just to experience Ender's first go at the simulator. When he raises his arms to pull his fleet forward, your heart will skip a beat.

Eros display at the premiere after-party
One thing that surprised me the most is that a great deal of the first half of the movie is surprisingly funny. Aramis Knight (Bean) quips a particular one-liner that had the entire audience roaring and he displays a sort of sure-footed cockiness in the film that suited his character very well. Moises Arias, too, garnered lots of laughs: while I never pictured Bonzo as AMUSING, the character is handled well. He's believable, albeit a little bit ridiculous, and a mere look from Fly Molo (Brandon Soo Hoo) or Petra (Hailee Steinfeld) tell us they feel so as well. Before Monday, I agreed with those who believed he was miscast but I was wrong; he ended up being one of my favorite parts of the film.

It's true that the story rockets along at an almost neck-breaking pace, and that this is what might make many plot points lost on members of the audience who haven't read the book. It also prevents any real character development apart from Ender and thus it's never really clear that those Battle School kids who make it all the way to Command School are the ones Ender trusts most -- except perhaps Petra.

However, I think my one real complaint is that while Jimmy Jax Pinchak was convincing in the very brief time we spend with him, his character in the film is a beautiful bully and nothing more: we are given no evidence that Peter is anything besides jealous and a bit unhinged. When we spoke to Gavin Hood at the set visit, he assured us Peter's better qualities would be displayed at some point in the film and his motivations would become clear; however, we see none of the "tough love" the director spoke of. While it seems likely this was a decision made in the editing room, it was a decision that cut Peter and perhaps any possible sequel off at the knees.

But book-to-movie adaptations are hard and these decisions have to be made. I've been an avid reader since well before kindergarten when I figured out those squiggly lines were letters which turned into stories which could one day hit the big screen. I knew there was always a chance that something could be lost in translation. But this one of the best adaptations I've seen in a while and I am immensely grateful to Gavin Hood, the producers, and the cast for coming together to create something that stayed true to the spirit of Ender's Game.

It's been a wild ride these past two years but the end result was utterly worth it.
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