ENDER'S GAME REVIEW (GRADE: A-)
As good a two-hour adaptation of the beloved source material as could ever be hoped for, Ender's Game is a satisfying morality tale dressed as sci-fi. The story, about child soldiers trained to be commanders in a future alien war, has stunned readers for decades. This thrilling and poignant film adaptation should please fans of the book while engaging newcomers.
It's taken nearly 30 years to adapt the massively successful novel into a film, even though Hollywood has had its eye on it since the mid-80's. The delay came from Latter-day Saint author Orson Scott Card, who explained: “I jealously protected the movie rights to Ender's Game so that it would not be filmed until it could be done right. I knew what kind of movie it had to be, and I tried to keep it away from directors, writers, and studios who would try to turn it into the kind of movie they think of as ‘sci-fi.'… Because for me, a great film- sci-fi or otherwise- comes down to relationships and moral decisions. How people are with each other, how they build communities, what they sacrifice for the sake of others, what they mean when they think of a decision as right vs. wrong.”
If you've read the book, you know how important it is to nail the subtleties of the characterizations and moral dilemmas. A terrific screenwriter and director were essential. Gavin Hood, who made the atrocious X:Men Origins- Wolverine, initially seemed to me a poor choice. To my surprise his screenplay and direction are incredibly solid. He does the book as much justice as could be possibly be done in 120 minutes. Card's world has translated brilliantly onto the screen. The visual effects, though stunning, actually service the story. The sets and production design are excellent. The musical score is purchase-worthy and perfectly sets the tone.
The casting is perfect; the kids are older than they are in the book, but it doesn't matter when Asa Butterfield (Hugo), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Abigail Breslin (The Ultimate Gift), and others so wholly embody their characters. Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones) does his “gruff and grumpy” thing but is gradually allowed to give his character some shades of humanity and humor. Viola Davis (The Help) provides a nice counter to Ford's character, asking the moral questions that should be asked of adults enlisting the young and naive to fight their wars for them. Ben Kingsley (Ghandi), for his part, doesn't have much to do, but he's such a terrific actor that he brings gravitas to his role late in the game.
The movie's only flaw is its running time: it's too short. On the one hand, I appreciated Hood's commitment to delivering something fast-paced and to his credit that the film never lags nor bores while still capturing the essence of the story. On the other hand, certain characters get the short end of the stick. More importantly, several key emotional moments don't carry the wallop that they could if the movie slowed down a bit to set them up more; an extra 30 minutes could have done wonders. As it is, however, this is still gripping, well-acted, meaningful sci-fi that is not to be missed on the big screen.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Ender's Game is rated PG-13. Ender's internal struggle between aggression and compassion is a key theme in the story; this is explored in several instances where, after trying to avoid violence, he fights out of self-defense and beats bullies severely so they'll leave him alone. There are a few mild and moderate profanities. There are no f-words, sexuality, or nudity. It is implied that Ender is naked in a shower, but only his waist and above are seen.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: When we come to understand our enemies, we have compassion for them and no longer want to hurt them (Mosiah 9:1). Loving those who have wronged us can help us to find peace (Matthew 5:44). While we should never be aggressors, there is nothing sinful about self-defense as a last resort (Alma 43:46-47), provided that we offer our attackers the option of peace (Alma 44:1-2,6-7). Ender, like Mormon, was given great responsibility and placed in command of large armies at a young age (Mormon 1:2,15; Mormon 2:1).