Saturday, November 2, 2013

Ender's Game in Theaters Now

I read the book Ender's Game in preparation for watching the movie, so with that semi-fresh in my mind (read that review here), these are my thoughts on the screen adaptation.

I'm not going to go into exactly what the story is about. For that, you can read my book review or stumble upon it just about anywhere on the Internet. This will be more of a comparison review of book to movie, with emphasis on the movie.

Overall, I thought the movie stayed very true to the book with the exception that befalls all movie adaptations: that much of the book had to be compressed. Impressively, this movie is very tight and moves the plot and the action right along, clocking in at under two hours. There's no drag. On the other hand, such speed of plot leaves little room to draw out depth of character and emotion, and that's what I found lacking in the first half of this movie. If you don't already know Ender from the books, you cannot possibly grasp what he is going through in the movie. The book takes us deeply into Ender's heart and mind, and it's extremely difficult to translate something so internal into something external and visual.

(Minor SPOILERS follow in this paragraph.) I'm not sure a true translation would have been possible in the first place without making a much longer movie that might have included more of the set-up of Ender's isolation. The movie cuts out the constant set-backs Ender faces in his quest for acceptance, and without those, you don't feel his plight nearly as strongly. The movie tells us he's purposely being isolated, but it skips the parts that show it, narrowly focusing instead on the opposite: how Ender attracts his followers. Without seeing the agony of his losses, we can't fully understand the significance of his victories. In fact, if you only had the movie to go by, you would think that Ender's superior, Colonel Graff, fails in his mission to isolate Ender, but that's not quite the case in the book. So, the first half of the movie, while true to the spirit of the book, lacks some of the soul of the book.

However, the second half picked up some of the lost emotional threads I was looking for and tied them into a fabulous ending, made all the more powerful by what I already knew from the book. This is one case where I am very glad I read the book first, though sometimes I am not so finicky about that. It is possible that I read more emotion into scenes because I knew what the book contained. Even so, Asa Butterfield, except for being taller than I thought he should be (and he's definitely older than the character in the book, but to get an actor with any depth, he'd have to be), is a fantastic Ender, and he plays the emotions beautifully.

(Very minor SPOILERS in this paragraph.) In fact, I was happy with nearly all the characters. Valentine, perhaps, didn't match up with how I envisioned her, especially in the latter half of the book, but she's in the movie so little that it doesn't matter (she and Peter's roles from later in the book were one of the sacrifices made due to time constraints). Harrison Ford as Graff and Viola Davis as Anderson seemed just right. Granted, I wasn't expecting Anderson to be a woman, and Davis brings a more motherly (though still military-tough) approach to the character that I never would have envisioned from the book, but somehow it works. At least, I liked it. The other trainees with Ender don't get a ton of screen time, but we still get to see a few of the book's key moments in which certain ones become something more to Ender. However, there's no time in the movie to deal with the complications those friendships go through in the book.

Just a note about morality since that's one of my big things. I don't have anything really bad to say about the movie, but I do want to give you the basics. It's rated PG-13 for some violence and heavy thematic material. (In short, if your kid's as young as Ender is supposed to be in the story, he's probably too young to watch this!) There's bullying, manipulation, questioning of authority, calculated violence. But the whole story is one big dialog of right and wrong. For that reason, with parental guidance, of course, I think some younger ages (middle school especially) can handle, or even should be allowed to handle, this. There's a lot to talk about.

Finally, I just enjoyed the look of the movie, the tech, the battle room, the aliens. It was all well done, and nothing seemed too amiss when compared to what I had envisioned in the book.

Though the first half of the movie leaned more toward three stars for me, the second half brought it overall to four stars. When the credits finally rolled, I had shed a few tears and just needed time to process the whole thing. There's this beauty to the story that the movie manages to capture a small part of, and it's timeless too. Several decades since the book's first publication haven't lessened its relevance and impact. I'm happy to see this story on the screen, despite being only a very recent fan, but I do highly recommend that you enjoy the book first.

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