I had to come out of retirement this once.
Few novels hold a place in my heart like Ender’s Game. I first read it at age thirteen, and it got me through some very dark times. I’ve read it five times from cover to cover, and many more times in pieces.
For the uninitiated: Earth in the near future is invaded by a race of insectoid aliens called the Formics, and a legendary figure named Mazer Rakham leads the military force that drives them away. Seventy years later, the military is preparing for a second battle. A young boy named Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is taken from his home to a military space station where he is forced to play war games with other kids in zero gravity. These kids are training to be mankind’s last best hope, and Ender is fated to lead them. But first he has to be broken and turned into a killer.
Far from being an “alien invasion” story, Ender’s Game is a deeply perceptive and moral psychological drama.
First things first: Ender’s Game needed to be a three hour movie, possibly with an R rating. But that was obviously never going to happen. Ender’s Game is not a young adult novel, but it is about children, and has always appealed to a certain type of mature kid. Any movie version was going to have to operate within commercially acceptable limitations.
So did Hollywood get it right?
The answer is a resounding yes. This movie is closer to the book than I could have possibly hoped. It’s like watching scenes from the novel brought to visual life. I must admit that I was on the fence for the first half hour or so; for some reason I sensed that the book’s dark themes were going to be watered down. I was wrong. The film starts out lighter than the book to highlight the crucible that Ender is fated to endure.
Lately Harrison Ford has been phoning in his performances, but in Ender’s Game he is wonderful as the head of the battle school. His heart is finally in a movie again, which portends good things for Star Wars VII (just for the record, Ford will be reappearing as Han Solo, and his involvement is reportedly contingent on the character dying, in a blaze of glory no doubt). Ben Kingsley is typically terrific as Mazer Rakham, the war hero who trains Ender during the last third of the movie. But the film rests on the shoulders of Asa Butterfield, who delivers the most amazing performance I have ever seen from a child. That is a very good thing, because without a central performance of this caliber, the entire film would have failed.
Ender’s Game is one of the best science fiction novels ever written, and the movie does not exactly convey that. But I am happy tonight, and relieved. Kudos to everyone involved, particularly writer-director Gavin Hood, who took the source material and expertly distilled and condensed it. You made some brave choices, and created a terrific film.