Gavin Hood, USA, 2013, 114 min.
It’s hard to review a film such as Ender’s Game without comparing it to the source material. Least of all because the latter is one the great novels, and the former’s success hinges so much on the retelling of it. So first, a quick review of the film as it stands, regardless of the original.
Earth has been through a devastating war with an alien race. We won, but barely, and have been preparing for their return ever since. Enter Colonel Graff, who runs an off-planet Battle School where the best and brightest children are trained in the art of war. The program is searching for those unique strategic minds that will be able to fight the enemy.
Ender is one of those students, and we follow him as he enters the school and confronts various trials and obstacles. The performances are good, and the film has a simple clean look and practically show action sequences. But everything is only skin deep, and the deep meanings that character’s give to things are spoken about instead of shown.
How do we know Ender is set up to be isolated at the school? Because Graff says so. We are not shown Ender’s isolation. In fact, just the opposite. He immediately makes friends and dispels his enemies. That happens quite a bit. We are told one thing, but the movie fast-forwards right to the conclusion, not having time to show how Ender got there. The whole Battle Room part of the story is a great example.
Which brings me to the book. The book fills in all those blanks, gives you insight into what people are feeling without telling you, and gives detail to the supporting characters who ended up just being faces and names in the film. Which makes the film quite an oddity. A film you may enjoy more if you read the book first.
If you hadn’t read it, you would be looking at the shallow characters and missing build-ups between scenes, and will not know how to fill in the blanks. But if you read it, you know all about the stories and the character’s and may just enjoy seeing some of those things up on the big screen.