Sunday, November 3, 2013

The enemy's gate is down.

Ender's Game: A Movie Review


I've never done a movie review on this blog, but I had to make an exception when my favorite book (50+ read throughs), Ender's Game (originally published in 1985, written by Orson Scott Card), finally arrived on the big screen after fans waited years and years to see some kind of Hollywood adaptation. The movie, which I saw the 3rd day that it was out in theaters, turned out to be a fairly decent one, although I wouldn't necessarily have titled it, Ender's Game. I would have probably changed the name to: A Movie Based on Select Highlighted Quotes from the Book, Ender's Game.
This review contains two sections: one section is for people who have read the book but have not yet seen the movie (in other words, this section will reveal nothing about the differences between the book and movie), and the other section is for people who have both read the book and seen the movie (aka contains spoilers). If you only saw the movie, good for you! But I highly recommend you read the book anyway because this book is simply a beautiful beautiful book. Trust me on this one. Here we go.

For those who haven't seen the movie yet:
Ender's Game is my favorite book, so I suspect that my expectations were unfairly high when they first announced that a movie based on the book was actually green-lighted for Hollywood production. Ender's Game (the book) is so close to my heart that I've got many of the details memorized--and not because I'm some crazy person (only sometimes), but because the book's amazing writing, beautiful characters, and strong messages have a way of sticking with you, especially if you've read the book 50+ times like me. But like any movie-goer these days knows, book adaptations can be hard to pull off correctly when translated to the big screen, so I kept my expectations relatively low but still hoped for the best.

The Good: For the most part, Ender's Game was a good movie in and of itself. Overall, I felt that the directors were able to successfully transplant the book's main plotline (child soldiers train in pseudo armies in zero gravity games to prepare to become commanders of the human army to fight the alien species known as the Buggers) to the movie, and the cast was mostly fitting for the roles they played. Asa Butterfield was an excellent Ender, and although Harrison Ford was not who I had imagined for Graff, he was able to pull off the part. The Battleroom scenes (and any scenes with CGI, actually) were spectacularly animated, and the soundtrack was without a doubt, extraordinary. My favorite part of the movie was definitely near the end, when Ender played his final battle simulation. Readers of the book know exactly what to expect, and the movie didn't disappoint. Between the amazing animation graphics, the background music, and Asa Butterfield's on-screen intensity, that final battle scene was just so absolutely stunning, I got chills just watching it!

The Bad: There were many parts of the book that did not make it into the movie, and although sometimes this did not truly effect the scene/characters, other times these changes were very detrimental, in my opinion. Because parts of the story were chopped up and then strewn together, the movie felt kind of rushed and disjointed. Each scene, though executed well, fell flat because suddenly we were moving on to a different scene with potentially different characters. I never felt particularly connected to any of the movie characters, not even movie Ender, and that was disappointing since Ender was such a beautiful and multi-faceted character in the book. Scenes from the book that I felt were important to Ender's overall character development were left out and this resulted in a movie Ender that was almost a completely different book Ender. Movie Ender suffered a bit, yes, but because we didn't get to see some key events the way they happen in the book, I never felt that movie Ender was isolated or manipulated--huge themes in the book, if you recall. I also didn't like the fact that Petra had such a large role in the movie. Because of the ages of the actress/actor playing Petra and Ender, there was a strange tension in the scenes between the two of them that felt extremely out of place.

******BEGIN SPOILERS******

For those who have already seen the movie :

As a huge fan of the book, of course I wanted to see every single detail animated onto the big screen, but of course, I knew that this would never happen. Still, I had some complaints about what they chose to change or omit in the movie, and most were detrimental (I thought) to the overall appreciation and enjoyment of the film: 

1. The relationship between Peter, Valentine, and Ender: We see Peter for about 2 minutes in the beginning of the movie, and then afterwards...nothing. We see Valentine substantially more (a whopping 5-10 minutes, tops), but Ender's siblings are such a small part of the movie that they had so little impact on showing the audience just who Ender really is. In the book, Peter shapes Ender's deepest fears of being a cruel monster and Valentine represents Ender's salvation, his unwavering source of love and affection. But in the movie, all of this is lost. Valentine doesn't reassure Ender at all that he is not like Peter (hugely important in the novel!), and there's no interplay between Peter and Valentine that would indicate they are anything more than 1 dimensional characters. Valentine's absence in the movie is definitely felt, and because we don't really see much of her, the scene on the lake where she convinces Ender to go to command school felt emotionally flat to me.

2. Ender's vulnerability and isolation: I felt bad for movie Ender for a total of 5 minutes, and in all of those 5 minutes, he was being yelled at by adults. This was completely different from the book, where I felt bad for Ender because he was purposely made vulnerable and isolated from everyone else. Book Ender was never yelled at by the adults--instead, they manipulated him silently by controlling the situations that he was in. While the movie attempted to show Ender's isolation after the launch group arrived at Battle School (by giving him the bunk by the door), the next scenes where Dap tells the Launchies that they are a "team" and that they must "work together" destroyed any effect of isolation that we were supposed to get. For book loyalists like me, we know that Ender's isolation was a huge theme and character development stepping stone for him. Ender's isolation was what eventually drove him to "give up" the first time, and his isolation was what made him brilliant. In the movie, because I almost never felt that Ender was the "underdog," I also never got to feel like he was the "best of the best." Yes, I understood that movie Ender was the main character, but the reasons why people thought he was such a brilliant commander is lost.

3. Bonzo's height: I really have no idea why they decided to pick such a short actor to play Bonzo Madrid. Yes, I'm very happy they decided to keep the shower scene in the movie (and they even got the part about Bonzo's honor right!), but I just couldn't take Bonzo seriously when he was so much smaller then Ender. In the book, Bonzo was dangerous, and here, he didn't seem dangerous at all.

4. Ender's Battleroom growth: I know the movie was pressed for time, but I really really wish they would have spent some more time in the Battleroom. The animated graphics were amazing, and it's a shame that nothing was really explained about the battles, the ranking system, or even the configurations of an army. The game was a huge part of the novel--the boys (and even the adults) lived and breathed to win the game! Movie Ender went from Salamander Army directly to being a commander of Dragon Army, which was fine, but the movie showed just one measly Dragon battle (against the wrong armies, I might add), and that was it! Call me crazy, but wasn't Ender's journey training his Dragon Army a way to show his tremendous character growth? Wasn't having a 7-0 record in 7 days supposed to show how amazing Ender was as a commander? Wouldn't having something, anything, showing Ender's relationship with his soldiers help create a more 3-dimensional movie character? Again, I feel like the movie failed to show how truly special Ender was and why people would follow someone like him.

5. Petra's increased role and presence: I can sort of understand why the people in charge would choose to focus on Petra as Ender's friendly beacon. She was certainly his friend in the book, and in the movie, she's played by a pretty famous young adult actress. But honestly, I feel like they overplayed how attached she and Ender were, and it added some weird (sexual?) tension between the two of them--something completely absent in the book since Petra was really "one of the guys." I also really disliked how they wrote out Petra's anger when book Ender defeats her army in a battle. In the movie, Petra is too nice, too helpful, and just too different from how she's written in the book for me to enjoy her character.

6. Changes in Ender's jeesh: Honestly, as a tribute to fans, could they not have at least kept the main members of Ender's jeesh the same as the book (or at least mention them)? Where was Crazy Tom? Fly Molo? Hot Soup? What were Bernard and Dink doing in Dragon Army? Small details, yes, but as a fan, these small changes really bothered me.

7. "The enemy's gate is down:" This quote, perhaps one of the most called upon quotes from the book, was said two times in the movie. While it is not overabundantly stated in the novel either, it's the way that the quote was presented in the movie that is the problem. The first mention of "the enemy's gate is down," comes when Ender and Bean interact in the battleroom for the first time as Launchies (there's just so much wrong with that scenario...but we'll let it slide), and the quote is so nonchalantly thrown out into the wind that there's no impact at all. It doesn't become a rule Ender fights by. It doesn't become a strategical point Ender teaches to his army. It, in essence, is meaningless, which is why I find it odd they finally decided to stick to the book and have Bean say it during the final simulation battle. Honestly, when Bean turned around and said, quite seriously, "the enemy's gate is down," even I almost forgot what this was supposed to signify. It felt so out of place that I almost laughed (which breaks my heart because this quote means so much to fans of the book).

******END SPOILERS******

Overall Impressions: As expected, the Ender's Game movie didn't live up to my expectations, but I don't feel like the movie was a complete failure either. Despite having some amazing action sequences and a killer soundtrack, the movie really lost the magic of the book, which captures Ender's anguish, his frustrations, his hopes, and his spectacularly compassionate soul through character driven development and situational based development. Movie Ender is a good character, but he's not a special character because nothing separates him from his peers! We never get the sense of Ender's incredible genius (since all but 1 Dragon battle was cut out), and his ability to be gentle and kind are diminished because we never see him being cold or distant.There's also no real sense of the adults manipulating the situation at battle school, no inkling of the depth of Ender's despair, and Lt. Anderson was too much of a "nice adult" to stay in character. Still, I can't help but find a special place in my heart for this movie because it is still a small part of Ender's Game and I've been waiting for this film to come out for 8 years.

I know I'll be getting the DVD when it becomes available, because this is Ender we're talking about, after all. But my recommendation would be that you go into the movie expecting differences (because there are many), but enjoying the movie as a story the on-screen characters tell.

Rating: 6.5/10


  1. Really helpful review!! This is how I feel about the Book Thief movie coming out... my favorite book being made into a movie (and since it isn't Scifi, no fancy effects to fall back on)... we'll see :x

    1. Thank you! :) I just saw a trailer for The Book Thief, I really enjoyed that book as well. The trailer made it seem pretty decent, although if it's not narrated by Death... then I will be very upset! There's always hope, fingers crossed! Have you read The Messenger, by Markus Zusak? I really enjoyed that book as well.

      And speaking of book to film adaptations, they're making The Giver into a movie! I was absolutely shocked to see Taylor Swift on the cast list, but hopefully her role won't be too I just hope the entire movie is shot in black and white until Jonas actually starts seeing color. If they get that part of the movie wrong... I will be so horrified. *__*