Ender’s Game is one of the earliest science fictions novels I ever read. I loved it and always wanted to see it made into a movie, that is until I saw I, Robot made into a movie. My expectations were that Ender’s Game the film would butcher the novel, but I was pleasantly surprised.
I don’t remember the finer points of the novel’s plot but I thought the film did well a few big ones. The film gives some time to the Ender-Valentine-Peter relationship, but ignores the political activism of Valentine and Peter.
Ender’s ruthlessness when threatened is a major part of the film though. When a fellow student, Stilson, attacks him Ender brutally beats him. This plays into the film’s climax where Ender destroys the entire enemy planet even at the expense of a large part of his fleet. What won Ender a place in battle school and eventually the position of fleet commander was that when confronted with a threat he fought to not only win the current battle, but all future battles.
For all his ruthlessness though, Ender is still a boy. He is ashamed by his attack on Stilson and wants to quit after he almost kills fellow battle school commander Bonzo Madrid. When he finds out his final battle simulation in which he destroys the entire Formic race was actually a real battle, he considers himself a monster. He understands what it takes to end a threat but can’t deal with the consequences of such actions.
The ethics of Ender’s training also looms large. At its worst the military command tricks Ender into committing a genocide. Even before that he - a 10 year old - is deliberately isolated from his fellow trainees as a way to build his leadership abilities. Worried about his psyche, Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), a psychologist, secretly monitors him until Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) shuts her down and relieves her of her position. Even the use of a childhood hero, war hero Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), in his training is manipulative.
I thought the film had great special effects and really made the best out of the few action scenes from the novel. The book isn’t stuffed with action. The action comes from the battle school capture the flag game and the fleet simulations. To me these were always meant to be more intellectually intense than physical. I’d rather a film-adaptation stay true to the original story, but there usually has to be some action to make the film viable to a larger audience.
The militaristic atmosphere was intense as well. The training sequences combined with the overarching goal of needing to save the world really drew me into the story.