Movie review: Ender’s Game

Poster by Summit Entertainment.

Poster by Summit Entertainment.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is considered one of the modern classics of science fiction, about a genius boy named Ender Wiggin, who is recruited to fight a war against alien invaders. Now, the movie is out, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised.

I would have thought that Ender’s Game was unfilmable (and I’m not the only one). It’s definitely not your traditional sci-fi action movie. Not only is it deeply character-driven, but it’s also incredibly dense with psychology, politics, and military tactics, much of which are integral to the plot. It’s impossible to show all of that in a visual media, and yet I thought that the film of Ender’s Game did an admirable job of it given the two-hour format.

As with any adaptation, fans of the book will note numerous omissions. For example, the entire B-plot of Ender’s siblings Peter and Valentine taking over the world through the power of the pen has been omitted, but that’s understandable for such a complex story. More difficult is the fact that the episode of the Giant’s Drink, and in fact many of the psychological obstacles that are put in Ender’s path are glossed over, skimming over the profound impact they have on him.

I think my chief complaint about the movie, though, is, ironically, that it suffers from a bad case of “show, don’t tell” with Ender’s time in Battle School. We see a few scenes demonstrating Ender’s tactical genius, but we have to be told how good he is by Colonel Graff. We also get a couple of scenes of his training with Petra and his development as a commander who earns the dedication of his troops. But in the novel, we read about Ender’s tactics in multiple battles, and he undertakes an extensive program of training the other recruits from the start. In the film, both of these sequences pass by without so much as a montage.

Even so, the film turned out pretty well. True, it feels a bit rushed, which is to be expected from such a dense story, but the story flows remarkably well. It’s coherent, entertaining, and at the most important themes of the novel still filter through clearly. Even the complexities of Ender’s character shine through, although this may be somewhat at the expense of the others. And I have to admit, the climactic final battle was much cooler than the one in the book.

All in all, it seems that they have done the impossible and made Ender’s Game into a reasonably good sci-fi movie. Like the novel, they even left the story open for a sequel. However, I’m not expecting Speaker for the Dead any time soon, since even Orson Scott Card himself thinks that is unfilmable.

My rating: 4 out of 5.

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About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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