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687 of 731 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars My favorite science fiction book works reasonably well on the big screen, November 1, 2013
This review is from: Ender's Game [Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD] (Blu-ray)
I'm a big reader of science fiction, and Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series is probably my favorite. The only things that come close are Hyperion by Dan Simmons and Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga. I've read Ender's Game more than 10 times, including two or three occasions on which I finished it in a single sitting. One of my college papers is based on the novel and is published on Card's website.

Yes, I'm a fan.

So, as you can imagine, I have been looking forward to an Ender's Game movie long before I ever thought it might happen. For me, it had the potential to be the best science fiction movie ever made, if done well. After assembling a strong cast, my expectations could not have been higher as I sat down to watch the IMAX version today.

The basic premise is that an alien race, known as the Formics or Buggers, invaded Earth fifty years ago. The invading fleet was defeated, but another attack is expected. In order to be ready to face a species that learns from its mistakes, the International Fleet has come up with a strategy: A program was established to observe the behavior of young children, hoping that the best young geniuses of the time would be able to become the top military strategists by the time they were needed. Ender Wiggin was chosen as one of the trainees.

The movie deviates considerably from the book, but it's necessary. I am not here to tell you why the book is better, I'm here to tell you whether Ender's Game works as a movie. However, I must explain some of the key differences. In the book, Ender begins his training at the age of six, while all of the trainees in the movie appear to be 15 or older. I understand that it would be impossible to find dozens of 6-year-old actors capable of carrying this story. Also, the sequence of events is different. Bean, who is a key character, meets Ender immediately, rather than a few years into his training. Ender's training is supposed to take around eight years, but it seems to happen in months.

The biggest weakness of the movie is the way the battle training is condensed. Again, I realize that few people would want to watch four hours of training, but some of the suspense is missing because so little time is devoted to key events. Some events in the book seem unfair to Ender, but without the background information, anyone who hasn't read the book will miss the significance. Whenever I read Ender's Game, I become Ender Wiggin and experience the satisfaction of his achievements. I'm glad to say that I experienced similar feelings during the movie.

IMDB claims that the movie is an action movie, but that's not the case. Don't go into this expecting battle sequences or laser fights. They do exist, but not in the form you might expect. I am actually impressed that Hollywood didn't ruin the movie by trying to include too much action.

Ender's Game is essentially about leadership, and why individuals choose to follow certain people. Everyone in the school is a genius, but Ender is a good leader because he gains the trust, loyalty, and even love of his followers. The book is full of tactics, and we see Ender and his army discover and develop skills over the course of several years. The armies are comprised of 40 soldiers who are typically split into four Toons of 10 soldiers during battle. I doubt a casual viewer will come away from this movie even knowing what a Toon is. We certainly aren't shown how Ender's Dragon Army uses tactics that are completely new. On the plus side, the ending could not have been better, and I was excited to see an important scene present and handled well.

So, does this movie work at all?

As someone who knows all of the background to Ender's story, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it come alive on the big screen. The acting was good and the special effects spectacular, although my Kiwi friend reliably informs me that Ben Kingsley butchered the accent. Most of the key events in the book are touched upon, and a fan of the series will automatically catch the references and fill in the blanks. A complete newcomer to the story will probably have a good time, but come away wondering why Ender's Game is often regarded as the best science fiction book ever written.

I hope that the movie will be successful enough to spawn a sequel. Speaker for the Dead is a much deeper story, and shows what happens to Ender after the war. However, with some people boycotting the movie due to their dislike of Card's politics, I'm not sure whether a sequel will be possible.

I'll be adding Ender's Game to my collection as soon as it is released on Blu-ray, but it would be wrong of me to automatically give it 5/5 just because I love the books. That said, it's a good attempt to make a coherent story out of very difficult material. It's hard to show people thinking. If you do like the movie and haven't read the book, I urge you to do so. I imagine it would considerably enhance any future viewings.

By the way, the trailer gives away almost everything.
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Showing 1-10 of 66 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 4, 2013 4:41:40 PM PST
Thank you for your review, it's helped me decide whether or not to see this movie or wait for video.

I was skimming through these reviews but not reading too closely so as not to catch any spoilers since I've never read the book or any of the author's other material.

Fortunately a few key words like bugs and kids caught my attention and after further review, I decided this was not a movie for me to spend about $20.00 on a movie experience because the bugs and kids scenarios have been done to death (all the various bug/critter "B" movies and hello, Wesley Crusher and every other major kid character who saves the universe).

No offense to those who like the movie or book so go ahead and give it the 5-Star reviews, you'll get no argument from me.

Again, thank you Steven for helping me save both time and money.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 4, 2013 4:56:36 PM PST
I don't blame you, John.

It's a great book, and reading it would almost certainly improve the movie experience, but I wouldn't say it's a must see for anyone new to the story. However, one of my friends liked the movie a lot and had never heard of it before I raved about the book.

The real appeal of the story is showing the way the characters think and behave. It's an extremely complex story. That's where the movie falls a bit flat. It might have worked better if it were an hour longer and had been directed by someone like Christopher Nolan.

It's nice to see something I love adapted at all, but I know it could have received better treatment.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 5, 2013 9:54:37 AM PST
I reread your review and was reminded of how I originally felt about Harry Potter. I had some down time a few years ago and saw the whole series on a bookshelf so I decided to read the first one because have friends of all ages who loved the books and movies.

Needless to say I was hooked before I finished the first book. I finished the series about two weeks later and then watched the movies. I wasn't disappointed with either format and I was so caught up in the moment I bought the entire British version in harback for a friend of mine who thoroughly loved those books and almost cried when she received my gift.

So it sounds like this movie will be as good, so I think I'll give this movie a viewing when I get back home in a couple weeks.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 5, 2013 8:19:51 PM PST
Harry Potter is a good comparison. There's no way to cover everything in a 2.5 hour movie for series which have so much detail. I have watched all eight movies about five times each and revisit them about once a year. I think you would get the most out of the Ender's Game movie if you do give the book a try at some point.

Posted on Dec 16, 2013 12:33:18 PM PST
Web Designer says:
I haven't seen the movie, but from what I understand, it gives away the shock ending before the climax of the movie. In the original story (which I admit I haven't read for several decades), you don't know the kids are remotely fighting the real invasion (at least they certainly are by the time they've advanced a few levels); it appears that these kids are just playing a series of games, finding new methods of play and new and strategies to win, and we're not told what's going on behind the scenes until the end.

In the movie, from what I understand, it's all revealed up front, early in the movie, and it's just training they're not having that interactive creative process that's actually controlling and coordinating the fleet of ships. I don't know if in the movie they've even gone a step further and told the kids what's happening, but in the original story they had no idea.

Which kind of blows all the fun of the story, IMHO. I mean, that was the hook.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 16, 2013 2:16:21 PM PST
You're right about the book. We find out the truth at the end. The movie actually follows the same path and doesn't reveal it early. There is far less build up, showing how they would fight two enemies at once, and then several battles per day. That's a big deal in the book, but the significance may be lost in the movie without that extra level of detail.

Posted on Dec 26, 2013 4:21:11 PM PST
Katharsis says:
As a huge fan of the books (having read eleven of them) and having seen the movie twice in theaters over 48 hours, I found this review to be quite fair. One thing though: While leadership is a big thing in the story, I do not believe that is the main point. The main point cannot be discussed here, however, due to massive spoilers, but it very much has to do with the very end. Don't forget that Card wrote this book simply as a precursor for Speaker of the Dead because he wanted to flesh out his main character in SotD more.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 26, 2013 4:55:12 PM PST
Wouldn't Speaker for the Dead make a magnificent film with the right actors. It's a shame that the market for it would be so small.

Posted on Dec 29, 2013 9:57:58 AM PST
MICHAEL Y. says:
This is an excellent review, and parallels my thoughts exactly. However, i would like to add that there is another way to experience Ender besides reading the book or seeing the movie: Listening to the audiobooks. The Ender series is one of the best done audiobooks i have ever listened to, and I have listened to hundreds. I listened to ALL the Ender books in this media. Indeed, in an interview within one of these books, Card states that in fact he writes the books more for this medium than to be read. In the audio versions there is not just one narrator, but a full cast, all of whom are excellent, led by the master, Stephan Rudnicki, who in particular brings Graff to life like no one else could. Also, in the book the "ending" is subtly different, and to see why one must read (or hear) "Ender in Exile.) Yet due to the fact that this book was a later addition to the series, to fully appreciate that book you would have to read the "Shadow" series first, as Ender in Exile, due to relativistic travel extending lifespans relative to Earth events, starts after Ender's Game, but ends AFTER the full shadow series. To read Ender in Exile first would take some of the suspense out of the Shadow books. All of these books also come in audio form, and library collections commonly have them to borrow or get on loan. Finally, Cared is now completing a "prequel" trilogy about the history of the original Formic invasion. My overall conclusion regarding the movie is that it is a must see for anyone who has enjoyed the books in whatever form. And though i agree that the movie is nowhere near as good as the book, it is still excellent in its own right, and everyone I know who saw it without having read the book liked it. If there is a sequel, i think the first sequel should be based on "Ender's Shadow," rather than Speaker for the Dead. A "SFTD" movie would be totally unlike a typical sequel, since Ender is now grown, the characters and locations are mostly different, and although it is itself a Fabulous book, none of the things that people liked about Ender's Game would apply to SFTD. SFTD still needs Ender's Game to be the backstory for the Hive Queen portions, but the rest might as well be a totally different story.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 29, 2013 10:14:52 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 29, 2013 10:18:48 AM PST
Thanks for your comments, Michael. I have never heard any audio versions in this series, although I do like the medium. I own more than 20 audio books in Pratchett's Discworld series and do revisit them often. I'm currently reading Shadow Puppets yet again.

I'm glad that most reviews have been positive for Ender's Game, despite the boycotting threats. I think the movie deserves to be seen and I am glad it eventually made it to the big screen. I agree that the Shadow series would be the best place to begin a movie sequel. People would be interested to really know Bean. Although Speaker for the Dead may well be the best book in the entire series, many would not appreciate the vastly different type of story.
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