By Laurie Coker
Now part of many high school freshman English class curriculums, Orson Scott Card’s short story turned novel Ender’s Game finally comes to the big screen in a big (IMAX) way. Director Gavin Hood, who adapted Card’s novel for screen, manages to stay true enough to the story and some of its key themes, while pleasing sci-fi fans with visually remarkable renderings of Card’s future world settings. Not having read the novel in a long while, I relied on summaries from my students eager to attend the screening. With my memory well refreshed, I went in open-minded and left satisfied with some aspects and wanting more in others.
In short, after an alien invasion, which ended in victory, leaves Earth’s officials concerned about retaliation, the International Military drafts exceptionally gifted and intelligent children, in an effort to find a child leader capable of wiping out the threatening race before it attacks again. We meet Ender Wiggin’s (Hugo’s Asa Butterfield), a brilliant young man, handpicked by a crotchety Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) with the assistance of psychologist Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis –The Help), to lead a band of “misfits,” placing all the world’s hope on this twelve-year-old boy.
Butterfield captures the nature of his conflicted-character with ease. As Ender, Butterfield is almost boy and man, and under Graff’s tutelage, he suffers more than he triumphs, apparently making him better suited to lead. The young actor’s disposition emulates that of his character from the story, at any age (six to twenty-something). Hood, in fact, is pretty solid in his choice of young stars, with Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) as Ender’s closest friend, Petra Arkanian, and Aramis Knight as Bean and Suraj Partha as Alai, key members of Ender’s unbeatable squadron. I did take issue with the casting of Moises Arias as Bonzo Madrid, a rival ‘tween commander, who goes toe to toe with Ender. Arias, best known for his crazy, comedic character on television’s Hannah Montana, garnered chuckles from audience when he tried to play serious, irate and malicious. This short, slight actor, with a funnyman’s face, just can’t pull off the gravity needed for the role.
I feel fortunate for having seen Ender’s Game in IMAX. Hood’s visuals and action-sequences look amazing and will certainly please sci-fi folks. And he does try stay true to Card’s more philosophical story elements – posing questions about humanity’s reliance on our youth and the responsibility and hope we place upon them. In that vein, because of Hood’s adaptation and the necessary brevity of a film, Ender’s Game lacks the triumphant oomph of its source material.
Will Ender’s Game break box office records? I doubt it, but it will have a following. My students, who made it into the screening, loved it – thanking me over and over for the passes. I personally wanted a bit more. Not from the cast (save one), but from the story, which does stay somewhat true, and from the heart of the novel’s themes. As is the case with many books brought to screen, readers might complain about what filmmakers left out and non-readers might feel confused. It will most likely please its target audience, and it did gratify me well enough, and for that, I place a B- in my grade book.