Setting: A future Earth, where population control is mandatory.
Out of nowhere, aliens strike the earth, razing china, killing many many millions, and are eventually fended off by the badly equipped and antiquated space navy (and some brilliant tactical decisions) – it’s clear though, that the aliens will return across the light years, in greater numbers, and better prepared.
Fifty years later, and Andrew Wiggin (Ender), “third” child (and as such despised under the population control laws) is selected for military service – based on a psychological profiling program of all children.
He begins his journey (from pre-school) to Battle school to train to become one of the future leaders and tacticians of the international fleet which will face the alien threat when it returns.
But aliens are not the only threat that Ender will face – in Battle school, the kids don’t play nice.
In general, the film suffered from a some of significant failings (when compared to the book). Firstly, the whole “battle school” section – and the transition of Ender from a schoolkid to a military leader were skimmed over far too rapidly – the film suffered because it was simply too short – at 114 minutes, there was simply not enough time to show Ender as a leader who thought differently to the other kids in the Battleschool, and justify his rapid rise to the top. The sets of the Battleschool and the Battleroom was well realised, but the battles themselves demonstrated hardly any tactical skill and even on the big screen, the combatants were little more than dots in the darkness.
There was a serious lack of character development – secondary characters who played a significant part in the book were skimmed over (I think of Alai, Shen, Bean in particular), and some of the characters who did make a significant showing (petra and Bonso) were less than they should have been. Petra was developed as a borderline romantic interest, rather than an outsider (like Ender), who formed the nucleus of his trusted inner circle.
Regarding Bonso – well, where do I start? To begin with, Bonso Madrid was supposed to be an intimidating physical presence, similar to Peter (enders brother), but the casting of Bonso was way off the mark – most significantly, they cast a much shorter kid (I originally wrote ‘dwarf’ here), a good six inches shorter than Ender – how he was supposed to be intimidating is simply beyond me.
In the book, Ender demonstrates his intellectual and tactical superiority when he enters hand to hand combat with Bonso, and at the same time demonstrates his willingness to use maximum force to neutralise his enemy, completely – something they feel the need to tell us via Harrisons Ford and Viola Davis asides, rather than show us via Enders actions. How the battle with Bonso actually transpires was extremely weak, and conveyed none of the above. This scene was perhaps the biggest disappointment.
Once Ender progresses and the Simulated battles in space commence, the way these were realised through the ever present CGI was pretty good, and the final battle was very well done, building genuine tension against a feeling of overwhelming odds. What was missing was the feeling of how hard the kids were pushed through the whole thing – going back to the book again, the kids were suffering from breakdowns, or passing out at the controls. The closest they came to this in the film was them having to get up early one morning!
Casting wise, Asa Butterfield is a good choice, although he does suffer a big from “frodo syndrome” in that whatever emotions he tries to express end up looking a little like constipation – Harrison Ford was pretty much on form as stark authoritarian, tempered by Viola Davis who tried to remind us that Ender is still a kid, and can only take so much
Sir Ben Kingsley manages to play Mazer Rackham (hero of the original battle against the alien menace) with some conviction, overall, not a bad cast (with the exception of the woeful casting of the afore mentioned Bonso character).
Would I recommend it? Well yes, if you’ve never read the book, then it’s definitely watch-able, and does have a lot more depth than the majority of sci-fi romps, but the film would have benefited hugely from an extra twenty minutes spend in the Battle school/Battle room, which would have developed both Ender and his team.
If you’ve read the book, then you’ll no dout want to watch it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a huge disappointment, but I hold my hopes out for a Director’s Cut, with all the missing scenes slotted back into place to move the film a lot closer to Orson Scott Cards original masterpiece.