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'Ender's Game' Review: A Successful Adaptation
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31 Oct 2013 06:46 AM EST

- by Jorge Vargas, Editor; Imaage: Ender's Game is the story of a young boy growing up in a dystopian futuristic Earth who is selected by the military to take part in a training program designed to save humanity from the threat of alien invasion. Ender's Game premieres on Thursday, Oct. 31.

One of the biggest stories surrounding Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" novel was its lack of adaptability into film. Time and again, studios have attempted and failed to even get the project off the ground. 

Well, mission success.

Sort of.

A diehard fan of the novel, and there are quite a few who read it when they were much younger (and some who have re-read it many times since!), would quickly notice some glaring re-writes, ranging from Bean's arrival onto the scene (he's in the shuttle launch with Ender in the film, though in the novel, Bean only appears once Ender becomes a commander) to the fact that Bernard goes from being a major jerk (in the novel) to somehow ending up as Ender's buddy (in the film). Some changes were for the better, like the new look for the Battle Room, from which one can see Earth below, making it much more attractive than the dark room that most readers no doubt envisioned. Those differences aside, the general core of the film remains true to the message of the novel, to the overpowering strength of empathy within Ender (played fantastically by Asa Butterfield) and to the fact that victory at any cost is quite simply not acceptable.

In an era of wire-tapped heads of state and callous drone attacks on civilians in the Middle East, that anti-Machiavellian message that the ends most certainly do not justify the means is rather poignant.

The film itself was fascinating, because what it lost in pace (the first 45 minutes of the film had poor Ender jumping from one hoop to the next in minutes and made us wonder if maybe humanity really was doomed, since the best that the military could come up with was a training cycle of less than a month), it made up for in dazzling special effects that made the final battle, above all else, enthralling. Major points for cinematography there. Excellent performances from Butterfield (who made an extremely believeable Ender Wiggin, despite the fact that he was almost as tall as Harrison Ford, which is rather tall for a six-year-old child, no matter how much Harrison Ford is ageing these days) and from Ben Kingsley, as Mazer Rackham (the man who saved humanity during the previous war against the alien invaders) gave the film just enough life to make viewers keep up with a plot that felt rushed at times. 

Harrison Ford, who played Battle School Commander Hyrum Graff, did as well as could be expected for a character who quite simply wasn't given enough depth by the writers. Gone is the Colonel Graff who, in the novel, has a power trip and plays God with Ender's life, only to realize his mistakes and become someone Ender can trust, albeit tacitly. That Graff was replaced by a Graff who was simultaneously on a power trip and looking to say "I told you so" at every turn whenever someone doubted Ender. Harrison Ford is an excellent and intense actor, but what makes him shine is his ability to throw in the occasional joke. There were no such opportunities for him here and, thus, the performance felt flat.  

Despite those few caveats, the film is a strong one, the cinematography is excellent and the adaptation was a success. Anyone who hasn't read the novel will be pleased at a science fiction film that isn't just about the science fiction but about what the genre says about our present-day world, which is the mark of a strong sci-fi film.

To those who have read the book, they should rest assured that director Gavin Hood did his best to turn a very unwieldy novel into a remarkably easy flowing film, no small feat. Of course, that requires some compromise and some changes. The best advice is to go into the film expecting to see a complement for the novel, with a slightly different take, rather than a replacement for it. 

And to readers and non-readers of the novel alike, remember that the enemy's gate is down.

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