Ender's Game: 5 out of 10

The commercials for Ender's Game did not impress me. The advertising campaign focused on two things: on the propaganda surrounding the Formic War, and the movie's final battle. This focus on space combat was visually impressive, but were almost besides the point of the source material; and given that there were plenty of visually impressive pieces of the source material that could have adequately represented the source material, my expectation was that the film makers had completely missed the point.

Luckily, the commercials for Ender's Game do not reflect the movie. In fact, the movie is a fairly faithful retelling of the book, and many of its faults lie in that accuracy.

Both the movie and the book focus on Ender Wiggin, a child expressly born and bred to be a child officer in fleet defending Earth. The story focuses on Ender fighting his way through the ranks of an orbital Battle School, the distrust of his peers, and the adult's attempts to control. This isn't necessarily heady or subtle stuff, but it turns out to be a bit too complex for a 90 minute movie. Most movies would address this problem by leaving out less-important parts of the story; Ender's Game addresses the problem by just giving most of these parts of the story short-shrift.

One simple example: a good portion of the book is spent focusing on Ender's older siblings Valentine and Peter. The movie has precisely one short scene with Peter. While this isn't necessarily a huge loss, this did take time that could have been better spent on establishing other characters.

Another, and more pressing, example: the most striking part of the book was the concept of the Battle Room - an open, zero-gravity arena in which the children battle in army formations to conquer their opponent's gate. The battles themselves have been fascinating to imagine and to mentally extend for decades, and the slogan "The Enemy's Gate Is Down" sticks with me to this day. And I was not disappointed when the movie introduced the Battle Room or showed us the first battle; but, sadly, the movie didn't give the Battle Room the time it deserved. Instead we only got three Battle Room battles, each inexpertly combining together several scenes from the book. I could have watched a whole movie of nothing but the Battle Room (Hunger Games 4, perhaps? Or how about a video game?), but instead we were merely tempted.

Thus disappointed, I spent much of the movie focusing on what the movie could have been if time had been available to really focus on the parts that needed focus. I eventually decided that an 8-to-10 part HBO-style mini-series could have done the movie justice; the book was just episodic enough to support the material with appropriate A-and-B plots, some of which would involve and justify both Peter and Valentine.

Still, there was much to praise. The child actors were really quite good, to the extent that I was willing to forgive that they were all ~4 years older than the original novel called for. (Well, except for Peter.) The diversity of the cast was striking. The special effects were effective. The thematic material was stronger than I expected, even if it was hurt by the necessary elisions. And the final space battle was impressive, to the extent that I was not upset that so much time had been spent on it. And the anti-war and anti-bullying messages still came through, though not with the same poignancy as the original book.

To summarize: Ender's Game is not a bad movie, but it is not as good as it could have been, or perhaps should have been.

Rating: 5 (out of 10)

Trailer thoughts:

Overall, the trailers were quite unfocused, seemingly indicating that the movie studios didn't quite know what to make of this movie. It was especially striking that there were no trailers for sci-fi movies.

  1. Vampire Academy: not only does the movie look terrible, but the trailer was inconsistent and useless. I know I'm not the target audience for these kinds of things, but still, this is an embarrassment. I'm sure it will make plenty of money. 2/10

  2. Mr Peabody & Sherman: I am also not the target audience of this kind of kid's movie, but this at least looked watchable. The trailer did a fair job of explaining the story (as such) and sampling the jokes, though not perhaps explaining why we need a full 75 minutes of this kind of nostalgia. I rather expect to like the Rocky & Bullwinkle short more. 4/10

  3. Anchorman 2: the trailer itself wasn't particularly well put together, sadly; it worked on the "string a bunch of jokes together" principle. Luckily, the jokes looked pretty good, especially the ones with Steve Carell. I'll probably see this. 6/10

  4. 47 Ronin: this movie would look a whole lot less embarrassing if Keanu Reeves was not involved. It's still visually impressive and does a good job of being a self-contained story; but I also come out of seeing this every time feeling like the trailer is actively trying to deceive me about its movie's contents. 4/10

  5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: this trailer doesn't really have a lot of work to do; its target audience is going to see the movie regardless. As such, this just focuses on vignettes and visuals, rather than being a stand-alone work on its own (like, say the first trailer from the first Hobbit movie, with its focus on the Dwarven song). 6/10

  6. I, Frankenstein: the movie looks horrible and fun to watch, and there's a pretty good chance that the trailer is going to be more fun than the movie itself. Over-the-top gothic fantasy horror may well be a hoot; if I see this movie, it'll almost certainly be because of the implied craziness of trailers like this. 7/10