It’s a testament to young Asa Butterfield that Harrison Ford didn’t completely steal Ender’s Game out from under him. In fact, despite stellar performances from both of the film’s main stars, there wasn’t a single actor who didn’t sell his or her character completely. Regardless of whether they were new face or a veteran actor. But seriously, no matter what other problems exist for this movie, I can’t imagine a single person who read the book not completely buying Butterfield as an older Ender. The emotional intensity and variety coupled with the rare moments of childishness he displayed earned the film makers instant forgiveness for casting an older actor. Also on that note, I felt like this Ender was still young enough for his standing in Battle School to feel remarkable.
I think in time my take on Ender’s Game the movie will become very much like my attitude toward the Lord of the Rings films. I adore those books more than any other fantasy and science fiction, and while I liked all the movies well enough for what they were, there was a fair amount of heartbreak over what they weren’t. I felt the core of a lot of my favorite characters had been changed almost beyond recognition. Favorite plot lines had been dropped in favorite of material that wasn’t even in the book. Yes, the overall story was there, but at what price?
In time, though, I began to reconcile a bit with this new version. I stopped trying to see the characters I wanted to have and started watching the characters that were there. And I realized those movies were truly spectacular. Whether or not they “are” Lord of the Rings, they are good movies and a gorgeous realization of the general look and feel of my favorite fantasy world. I’m starting this journey with Ender’s Game.
You see, everything in the movie was lifted straight out of the pages of the book with jaw dropping faithfulness. Yet right after the first watching, I mostly saw what they had left behind. There had been a book I loved because it caused me to think and wrestle with questions I found uncomfortable. It shocked me, offended me, and grew me in a way only a handful of books have ever achieved. For me, in many ways it is my sci fi Lord of the Rings. Ender shaped me not only as a geek and a reader, but as person. And quite frankly, the book that did all that didn’t make it into the movie much at all. It got left behind in favor of a trilling, action packed space adventure — which I did love. Who couldn’t love those scenes of the Battle Room? And the command center? But the story about a boy whose identity was sacrificed for the greater good mostly coasted on a few of the book’s high point and never really developed enough to make it a driving force of the plot.
Which is why I think my mind latched on to what the actors were doing with their characters so much. It was in ten second exchanges and meaningful looks that I got glimpses of the deeper story I wanted. Harrison Ford’s Graff was completely believable as a man who has forgotten how to look past a child’s ability to destroy Formics. And yet there were moments, you wondered if that was only a façade. Moments where he seemed to truly see Ender as a person — a person he even respected to a degree. Anderson was also perfect as she tried desperately to balance out Graff. Her subtle defiance served as a needed reminder for the audience that regimented battalions of kids training for war is as heartbreaking as it fascinating. And wow, Abigail Breslin’s grown up. She was always good, but her role as Valentine clearly shows she can move on from being a child actor just fine. For almost no screen time, the kid playing Bean managed to sell a much deeper relationship with Ender than we really get to see, and my favorite moment of the movie was when the action paused enough to give these two a really great kid moment together. Petra charged straight out of the pages of the book and visually grounded Ender when nothing else could, and Ender’s obvious hero worship when meeting Rackham and his respect for Ender in turn were magnificent.
So my opinion of Ender’s Game at the moment is that it wasn’t quite the movie I was hoping for. But I know it’s a movie I’ll watch many times in years to come, and I really think that time and distance will allow me to fully appreciate just how magnificent a film Ender’s Game is, and to let go of any lingering disappointment. Should you go see it? Yes, yes, absolutely yes! If you haven’t read the book, first off you really need to, but you won’t need it to understand what’s happening. This is probably the only book to film adaptation I’ve ever watched where I didn’t feel the need to clarify certain plot elements for people unfamiliar with the source material. In this case, everything you need really is in the movie.
These are just initial reactions. Check back in a couple days for our analysis of the seven things we wanted to see and where, if anywhere we think the franchise should go from here.