Erratic performances make “Ender’s Game” a mediocre adaptation

Director Gavin Hood’s “Ender’s Game,” inspired by the novel of the same name by Orson Scott Card, is a stunning reaffirmation of the old adage that movie adaptations are worse than the literature on which they are based. Although the movie has some definite strengths, “Ender’s Game” is at best a so-so film likely to disappoint anyone with more than anemic expectations.

For those unfamiliar with Card’s plot, “Ender’s Game” is a post-apocalyptic military drama set in the future. Following an almost-victorious invasion of Earth by insect-like aliens, the humans’ International Fleet starts training children to protect Earth from the alien threat. Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield) is selected to join the elite training program called the Battle School. Under the supervision of Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), Ender and a group of other children learn about military strategy and practice fighting each other in a series of zero-gravity war games. As the time for a decisive battle against the aliens draws near, Ender must prepare himself for both military and personal battles if he wants to succeed.

Sadly, Hood is unable to prove victorious in his own battle: making a good movie. For instance, a lot of the nuances (and one huge subplot) in the book get cut out of the film; the main plot points in the book are included, but the audience is often left with incomprehensible distractions; and, even worse, the anti-war messages of the movie come off weak or convoluted.

The acting in “Ender’s Game” is erratic, as only a few main characters are given much opportunity to become more than one-dimensional. Butterfield gives a solid performance as the inwardly tortured Ender, but he does not display the charisma or energy that would elevate his performance to exceptionality. A well-casted Ford delivers his reliably gritty portrayal of a by-any-means-necessary Battle School commander, but his performance is disappointing for an actor of his ability. Fortunately, Ben Kingsley succeeds as military genius Mazer Rackham, and Hailee Steinfeld plays Ender’s friend Petra with notable skill. Most of the supporting actors, however, are reduced to pleasant scenery. Two mild exceptions are Abigail Breslin, who plays Ender’s sister Valentine, and Viola Davis, who capably portrays Graff’s empathetic deputy Major Anderson.

Although the adaptation of Card’s book is rather mediocre, the special effects and combat sequences add a level of entertainment value that prevents this film from being a total dud. The fight sequences, especially in the zero-gravity war games, are visually exciting. The larger battle sequences near the end provide a thrilling spectacular, and the movie features good computer animation. Donald McAlpine’s cinematography is both creative and invigorating.

On the whole, Ender’s Game is a mildly entertaining sci-fi film that fails its source material. Although it may be worth seeing if no worthier options exist, potential viewers would probably be better off looking for fun on campus.

Contact Caleb Smith at caleb17@stanford.edu.

About Caleb Smith

Caleb Smith '17 is a staff writer from Oakland, California and is planning on majoring in public policy. He specializes in public safety and university issues but does not discriminate against other articles. Outside the Daily, Caleb is Co-director of news at KZSU Stanford, the campus radio station. Have a tip or suggestion? Please contact him at caleb17 ‘at’ stanford.edu.