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AoH Reviews: Ender’s Game [US, 2013, 114 min]

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything new, I know, but I promise some stuff is coming up!

For now though, I’d like to rant a bit about Ender’s Game, the book adaptation with the seriously skewered release dates (it was released months ago in the US (in fact it’s already coming out on bluray there soon) while it won’t be released for another month here in the Netherlands) by below-average director Gavin Hood, based on one of my favorite books by one of my favorite writers: Orson Scott Card.

Ender's Game Flyer

Knowing Hood was attached to the project, and having followed the news about it closely, I already knew it was going to be very hard for me to enjoy this film. With every new piece of information that got out, my expectations lowered, but even with the knowledge of Ender being played by a 17 year old as tall as Harrison Ford who would play Colonel Graff, the director veering heavily from the book in as many ways as possible to turn it into a ‘blockbuster’ and word of the PG rating negatively impacting Ender’s emotional journey, I still had some hope that Hood would manage to pull it together into at least an enjoyable film.
Boy was I wrong.

I’m not even sure where to start, but let’s start at the biggest and most glaring mistake: Asa Butterfield. Now, I’m sure he’s not a terrible actor, but he’s without a doubt a terrible Andrew Wiggin. Of course this is Hood’s fault, as he aged everyone up from 8 to 16 (yep, that’s DOUBLE THE AGE) and Butterfield shouldn’t take the hit for that. Aging Ender and all other Battleschool cadets up effectively neutered the story from the get-go, removing the most interesting question the reader of the book will keep asking himself as the story goes on: “Is it really okay to expect this much from these young children?” Not to mention that aging Ender up this much and picking a tall as hell actor like Asa to play him messes up a whole lot of scenes that could’ve been a lot more meaningful. Why does Ender feel threatened by Bonzo in the first place when he’s about twice his size? All the scenes with Bonzo in it were hilarious because Asa is just so damn big and the guy who played Bonzo was tiny compared to him. Are we supposed to feel scared for Ender? When your ‘little boy’ is the same size as both his mentors, who are supposed to look scary and imposing, don’t you think you’re doing something wrong?

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For Gavin Hood simply neutering Ender’s journey on this level was not enough though, as he also rushed through the most important parts of the book; Ender’s feelings, emotional isolation, his love for his parents, his complicated relationship with others around him, and his struggle to live up to what was expected of him. Ender leaves home about 8 minutes into the movie without too much fuss. Peter, Ender’s brother, is on screen for a whopping 3 minutes if even that, and although I understand that he and Valentine couldn’t possibly fill the same roles in the movie as they did in the book (it would’ve added at least 30 extra minutes to the movie), it seems extremely stupid to introduce him and then drop him after only one scene. The entire act is played out terribly, as the audience doesn’t get any feel for Ender’s predicament of leaving his family behind to save the earth or staying behind feeling guilty for not trying. Hood rushes through it to open up to his fancy special effects shots, making his audiences believe Ender doesn’t really care much about what happens – a feeling that perpetuates the entire rest of the movie.

In the book, you really feel for Ender, this little 8 year old boy who’s being pushed to his limits by not only his teachers but also his fellow students. You can see his agony, isolation and loneliness. In the movie, everything has to move so fast that it manages to hit most of the beats, but completely miss the point of each and every one of them. Graff literally tells Anderson (who is now a fat black woman instead of a white male for some reason) that he’s totally going to isolate and break down Ender, but the audience is shown none of it, forced to take Harrison Ford by his word. Ender seems to be breezing through Battle School as if he doesn’t even have anything to learn there, acing one situation after another. Without even taking the time to do something like a cliché montage, Hood shoots us through Enders 4 years in Battle School, making it look like only a few weeks. Emotional bonds aren’t formed, characters all remain flat and the general feel of ‘if only they hadn’t tried to squeeze everything in the book into this thing’ reigns supreme. Because of wanting to put in as much as possible, what really mattered was lost. There is no sense of achievement when Ender gets something right – he gets everything right the first time he tries. There’s no sense of growth in Enders abilities or emotions – he’s as much a ‘commander’ at the beginning of Battle School as he is at the end.

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Even my favorite part of the book – the mind game – got the axe of speed+3 and was turned into something that made absolutely no sense to anyone except the people who’ve read the books. I’m sure anyone who hasn’t is wondering why it is even in there at all.

So, yes, the movie disappointed me on every level possible. Every level, except for the designs. Although the Battle Room certainly didn’t look like I had imagined it, it was beautiful, and I loved the way the Formic ships and creatures looked. Had these designs been used in even a half decent movie, I would’ve been happy.

Harrison Ford is another small bright spot in this black hole of a movie, as he fits the moody character of Graff perfectly.
Let’s not talk about Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham though. Although I love Kingsley as an actor, this certainly wasn’t his strongest role. And, let’s be honest, that whole facial tattoo thing was just plain stupid. Even the line in the movie where they try to justify it sounds incredibly out of place and unnecessary.

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So, in the end, what Ender’s Game is, is a waste of one of the best series of books ever written. Chances of another movie based on Ender’s Game are remote, and it looks like Summit is planning on coming up with their own stuff to do for a sequel as Speaker For The Dead is probably even more ‘impossible to film’ than Ender’s Game was.
So thanks, Gavin Hood, for raping me and everyone else who loves these books. And thanks, Orson Scott Card, for not letting anyone have the rights to your books up until now. I just wish you’d kept that up for a few decades longer.

VERDICT: 3/10

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One comment on “AoH Reviews: Ender’s Game [US, 2013, 114 min]

  1. Pingback: Happy days in Seoul [Part 1] | Anonymous of Holland - Gaming, Movies and Complaints

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This entry was posted on 22 January 2014 by in Film, Reviews and tagged , , , , , .

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