You know what two things are extremely similar? My enjoyment for Ender's Game the book and my enjoyment for Ender's Game the movie.
Let's start with the book, shall we? I read Ender's Game about a year ago. And I thoroughly enjoyed it from the first chapter to the last. Not only is it an entertaining story, but it also provided a canvas for Orson Scott Card to say deeper things about the tolls of war, the psychology of a leader, and the power of technology. In addition, it is a book that is well ahead of its time, in the way that it handles the World Wide Web. As I said, I liked the book from the first to the last chapter. BUT ... the book has an epilogue. And in this epilogue, the book completely lost me. After that last ending scene, I really had no desire to read any more of the Ender books.
And the movie is pretty much the same. I was entertained for the vast majority of the film. But then the last 10 minutes happened, and we're treated to Ender's mind becoming one with the aliens. It's a plot development that's going for a home run, a way to bring in one final philosophical idea. But for me, it just didn't connect at all.
Before we get to the plot, quick sidebar: For all those people making a huge fuss about boycotting this movie - are you doing anything to boycott the latest Roman Polanski movie? Nope? Didn't think so. People don't boycott Polanski's movies, they actively embrace them. Taking it a step further, renowned filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Woody Allen, Darren Aronofsky, and Stephen Frears have all signed a petition to bring Polanski back to the States. So, child molestation is okay, but simply speaking up for a personal belief is boycott worthy... You can't have it both ways, but nobody seems to care.
Anyways, Ender's Game is the story of Ender Wiggins. At the end of its rope, humanity must turns to children for deliverance. Ender is enrolled in "Battle School," where he'll try to become the greatest commander Earth has ever seen. He must protect humanity from "The Formics." Ender must climb the ranks at an unsightly pace, if he want's to protect those he loves.
The movie does an exceptionally good job of bringing over a lot of what the novel has to offer. Sadly, the movie can't take the time to address the Valentine/Peter relationship, and that's the biggest thing missing. Other than that, the majority of Ender's story is in tact. And it's not just that much of the story is the same. The director and screenwriter, Gavin Hood, does an admirable job of capturing the essence of the book. We can feel the weight of the world as it slowly presses down on Ender. It's very well done.
And speaking of Gavin Hood, this movie is infinitely better than his atrocity of a super hero film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That was free.
My main problems with the movie rest in the aforementioned last 10 minutes (which is a fault of the source material, not the filmmaking itself). The pacing is a little slow at times. Some key/noticeable plot points aren't explained very well, such as Mazar's face tattoo thing, and the MD device. Now, if you've read the book, you can fill in the blanks and you know exactly what's going on. But if you haven't, you'll be pretty bemused at times. I'll get to my last problem in a second.
The cast, or the vast majority of it, is exceptional! Asa Butterfield, of Hugo fame, hits all the right notes as Ender. He can play the confusion, the superior intellect, and ultimately the moral tragedy of the character. After the big twist at the end, Butterfield really turns it up a notch. What might be the most impressive thing about the performance is the fact that Butterfield has to go toe to toe with actors like Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, and Viola Davis.
And speaking of those three, they all do what they can with what their given. Kingsley doesn't have a very large part, but he is Ben Kingsley after all. Viola Davis has the most thankless role as Major Anderson. But, like Kingsley, she has enough talent to make up for a bland character. Harrison Ford, on the other hand, has the meatiest role of the three. Colonel Graff, more than anybody else, is responsible for the final outcome of this story. Ford gives a performance that doesn't feel as phoned in as it could very well have been.
As for the other child actors, they are solid in limited roles. It doesn't hurt when you cast two Academy Award nominees as your main female characters. Abigail Breslin and Hailee Steinfeld give entirely well-done performances. Sadly, Breslin is limited to only two or three scenes ... a shame. Steinfeld has more to do in the story, and she does it well.
But the last problem I have with the movie lies in one of the villains (and one of the child actors). Moisés Arias (of Hannah Montana fame ... is that fame? I guess not.) just doesn't cut it as Bonzo. He's supposed to be this formidable, intimidating figure, but Arias is everything but. In all fairness, his acting isn't too too bad. But the main problem lies in the fact that Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld both look to be a good 7 or 8 inches taller than Arias. And the with that, the intimidation factor goes right out the window.
The action and special effects are top shelf. The scenes in the Battle Room are surprisingly exhilarating! That's the part of the novel I was most looking forward to seeing on screen, and it didn't disappoint. The visuals are a pleasure to look at, and there's never a weak moment on screen.
I bemoan the fact that James Horner was replaced as composer for this movie. In his place, we have the producers and the director demanding a completely derivative score. Steve Jablonsky's music for Ender's Game is a hodgepodge of previous musical efforts. Most noticeably, he completely rips off the Game of Thrones theme for his Battle School theme. It may be an imitative score, but that doesn't mean it's entirely ineffective in context. In a lot of places, Jablonsky's music does add a driving force to the images on screen.
I applaud Ender's Game for its high ambitions. I applaud it for capitalizing on the source material and reaching most of those high ambitions. I also applaud it for being a YA movie that doesn't pander to any crowd. Still, the film is not without its flaws. But at the end of the day, I'm completely fine with the final product. It's a movie that deserved to be made. It's a movie that I enjoyed watching. But, like the book, it's also something where I have no real desire for a sequel. As a standalone film (which is what this will be, as it turns out), I was pleased and entertained. Nothing more or less.
"In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him." 7/10