Ender’s Game: A Film Adapted to the Twenty-first Century (Spoiler Alert!)

Julian Alai, Obama Eagle Staff Columnist

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Since Shakespearean time entertainment has morphed until it is hardly recognizable. Even now movies are constantly being adapted to the modern audience. While classics like The Sound of Music are still appreciated by the proper crowed, the most popular movies or television shows in this age are much more action-packed. Director and screenwriter Gavin Hood has expertly adapted Orson Scott Card’s sci-fi novel Ender’s Game into a twenty-first century screenplay which premiered November 1st, 2013, but he packed too much action into 114 minutes.

Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is one of many brilliant children that have been flown into space to be trained to form a resistance against an alien species known as the buggers, but even among the best he is marked as gifted. He is intentionally isolated from the rest of the students at the Battle School at his arrival, but forms a close bond with a few on the students, most notably Petra Arkanian (Hailee Steinfeld). Together with the other students they unknowingly direct human troops in real battle. The novel written by Card focuses much on the manipulation by Col. Graph (Harrison Ford) and the other teachers of the Battle School as well as the intellectual intricacies of the child genius’s mind. Although some of this is depicted in the movie Hood has focused more on the conflict between Ender and his enemies. One of the aspects of Card’s novel that engaged not only young adults but also their parents is the emphasis he put on understanding Ender Wiggin’s mind and this is not expressed nearly as much in the film. It must be admitted that a movie can’t express a character’s thought line as directly as a book can, but rather than developing the characters Hood has instead brought to life the clashes Ender is forced to take part in. Butterfield and Steinfeld were permitted to develop their friendship through the movie, but there weren’t many other characters the audience began to feel a connection with. It felt instead like watching highlights of the intense moments of a person’s life, jumping from one fight to the next instead of lingering on the friendships formed at the times of peace. It may be thought that this was done to keep the movie a simpler web of friendships, but then Bernard switching from enemy to ally only created more confusion.

A few character relationships were very well orchestrated, however, including that between Ender and Graph. Harrison Ford acted his part as true to the novel as any character, emitting an air of harshness and indifference bordering on cruelty why maintaining his role as  a mentor to his charge. Just as Graph was shaping Ender into a commander, Ford was leading a young actor further into the world of the press. Gavin Hood had trouble finding the right actor to play the part of Ender Wiggin and they were forced to search worldwide. In Orson Scott Card’s book Ender is introduced at six years old and grows into a preteen. Unfortunately, a movie can’t be filmed over the course of six years, and so Hood had to find a balance between a child young enough to embody the image of the “child saving the world” theme while still having the capability to act the part of a complex mind. “It was very hard to find an actor that could be both awkward and shy and withdrawn at the beginning … yet by the end … stops someone like Harrison Ford in his tracks” Hood mentions. Asa Butterfield was brilliant choice. Although old in some critiques eyes, Butterfield encapsulated Ender’s awkward transition from outcast to command very well. He showed little emotion which stemmed from his military upbringing, although it would have been a more touching story if there had been a few bumps in our rollercoaster ride. To anyone watching who hasn’t read Ender’s Game Butterfield seems to represent a psychotic and violent child rather than a rational thinker who is taking in the odds of each choice before choosing what path to take.

Any viewer who had read Ender’s Game would grin at the first few lines of the movie, which followed the book nearly word for word. The costuming was also another aspect well done, the flash suits with a futuristic air. The daily outfit gave the children in the movie a military appearance without detracting from their young age. The scenery was also well done, particularly the Battle Room. A clear glass globe a hundred yards in diameter was perhaps not the image conjured to mind when reading Orson Scott Card’s novel, but it the first glimpse of the star strewn room was enchanting. The music by Steve Jablonsky was well chosen and while enhancing the scenes it also wasn’t overdone to the point of distracting from the action.

Gavin Hood was definitely directing his attention to the teen audience while directing this movie, making his focus on the combat rather than the thought-provoking aspects of Orson Scott Card’s novel. Although the movie followed an intriguing plotline, much of the complexities behind the actions were lost. Ender’s Game is a movie well made when directed at a certain sector of the population of moviegoers, but it is not to be approached without an understanding of the manuscript that it was set off of, or the audience members will be lost in a confusing web of conflicts. However, the concepts depicted in this movie are as relevant as they were thirty years ago, at the books conception, and it produces a stunning image of the manipulation of children for the “greater good”.

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