BY ERIN TORRANCE
Since opening in theatres this past November, Gavin Hood’s Ender’s Game, based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Orson Scott Card, has received a lot of criticism for its inability to do justice to the novel. Not having read the novel, I can’t speak to these criticisms. However, it is just as important to judge a film in its own right, apart from the novel, as it is an entirely different format with its own pros and cons. So that’s what I’m setting out to do here, to review Hood’s film specific to the characteristics of film.
Out on Blu-ray and DVD this past week, Gavin Hood’s Ender’s Game follows Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), the third child in a family of gifted children who have all been recruited for special assignment training. Through the use of logic and strategy, Ender finds himself in command of the entire International Military. Put through a series of tests—some that he is aware of, others he is not—Ender demonstrates that he has the ability to take on the position. So in sum, the plot follows Ender’s attempts to understand his role and what kind of leader he wants to be.
I can’t say I’m much of a sci-fi fan, and this film doesn’t depart from the stereotypical humans-versus-aliens plot save for the twist ending, which kind of angered me as I kept thinking there was something bigger on the way (there wasn’t). There were also some aspects of the film that I don’t really understand, the foremost being why the cadets had to train in a zero-gravity arena, considering that when they do get to the final fight, they’re just sitting in front of digital screens. But, of course, these are aspects that are likely taken from the novel.
So what does the film bring to the novel’s plot? First off, there’s Butterfield’s performance. For a young actor, Butterfield delivers a strong performance that is actually fairly convincing (though I’d have to say that his role in Boy in the Striped Pajamas is immensely better). Abigail Breslin, as the caring older sister of Ender, is another highlight. No one else really stands out, including Harrison Ford.
The special effects are actually fairly well-done, which is something that can really make or break a film, since our expectations are much higher now, considering what we know is possible on a decent budget. Compared to the first film in the Hunger Games series, which I found to be terrible mostly because of the lack of quality in its special effects, Ender’s Game manages to add this extra element to the novel’s base.
If a film doesn’t offer enough strengths specific to the medium, then it fails to compare to the novel—it just becomes proof that it should’ve never been made into a film in the first place. The film needs to set itself apart by offering an experience that the novel cannot and, plot aside, I feel that Ender’s Game just barely accomplished that. Having said all of that, the film’s target audience is still the young-adult crowd, so it’s clear that some aspects will come across as cheesy to adults and the dialogue and interactions between characters isn’t going to come across as very high quality.
Overall, the film is a decent watch for young adults. For adults, it’s an OK watch. Just don’t expect to be blown away—the director wasn’t trying to impress you, after all.