I put off this review for a long time. I will start by saying two things:
Yes, the book was better than the movie.
But yet, I bought the DVD.
Here’s the short version of my thoughts on this adaptation of one of my very favorite books: it was unable to capture the themes and characters the way the book did (partially from the simple fact that it was too short), but it was visually stunning.
Now for some more of my detailed thoughts, which I know you all treasure. 😀
The propaganda reels with clips of the formic wars was good. I liked their visualization and the colors and graphics. In general I appreciated the attention to detail. There were a lot of little things that were done right. And one of the highlights of the film was the battle simulator on Eros. It really captured the magnitude of the battles and Ender’s responsibility/genius. I only wish that portion had been longer. I could have watched it for twenty minutes. (Obviously their CG budget would have had to be bigger)
I liked the design for battle school, and even the battle room. Obviously, it didn’t stay true to the book (only one battle room vs nine in the book). In the movie they made it a transparent sphere (they were cubes in the book with solid walls). Again, the visuals for this were stunning. The children could see the planet earth as well as the stars while they were fighting. (And I’ll add here that some of the music in the battle room was just WIN!)
Now we’ll dive into characters. I liked Harrison Ford as Graff, although I think his character a little more patient and introspective in the book. Asa Butterfield did a pretty good job as Ender. Admittedly, our opinion of him was necessarily altered by his age (some eight years older). In some respects, Aramis Knight (Bean) would have made a much better Ender. He was much smaller than the other children and he had a good intensity to him. I liked both Valentine and Peter (although they feature less prominently in the movie than the book).
Petra was a bit of an annoyance. In all the hype before the premier it was obvious they had upgraded her character to center stage (although she does feature prominently in the book). I didn’t think that I would mind. But in reality they completely changed her character. Aside from one smart line in the movie when Ender meets her, Petra is more like a second Valentine. She takes the place of Alai as Ender’s friend and confidant. She is sympathetic and supportive, and not at all like I imagined the aggressive, hard-hitting Petra from the book. And I have to admit I was particularly frustrated when they downplayed Alai’s role as Ender’s one real friend, and had Petra take that role. In my opinion, this really undermined the tone in parts of the movie. In the book, although Ender and Alai are best friends there is a section in the book where they become isolated from each other. The teachers are able to drive a wedge even between those two for a while. This doesn’t really happen with Petra in the movie and so it really took away from Ender’s isolation.
On the other hand I liked Moises Arias’ portrayal of Bonzo Madrid a great deal. In fact, I think he was one of the best actors in the film. He certainly interpreted his character spot on, even managing to appear realistically intimidating against Asa Butterfield, who is significantly taller than him. Although I think he pulled that role off well, it did take away from the interpretation of the story. It really is a whole different story in the book when Bonzo is five or six years older than Ender (correct me if I’m wrong), and clearly much bigger than him.
Again, I think the main fault of the movie was it was too short. Everything was a little too rushed. Even half an hour more would have added significantly to the story.
Some of the other changes they made were minor, but I couldn’t help missing how it was done in the book. For example, on Eros Ender is in direct contact with his team. This seems relatively insignificant. But for me Ender’s continued isolation adds a whole other layer. He is forced to interact with adults and it is through this that you see his abnormal maturity. Plus, the scene where he hears Alai’s voice in the simulator is pure gold. They also left out Petra’s breakdown. My guess is that they thought it made her look weak. I really liked that scene. First of all, it showed the stress and fatigue that the children were under. But it was also a pivotal character development scene for Petra. She was such a strong, aggressive character in the book, unaccustomed to losing (she’s furious when Ender beats her with Dragon Army, but later realizes that she did well against him compared to all the other commanders). It was moving to see her break down. It helped me relate to her.
I can understand why they didn’t include the Locke/Demosthenes thread in the movie. At the same time, I almost can’t. It would have been so easy to slip in at least a few references. And I think it would have added some interesting depth and well-roundedness to the whole story.
Whew. Am I done yet? 😉 I do have a lot more thoughts, but I think these ones are the important ones. (Ask me questions in the comments and I’d be happy to go into other details). I think the last thing I have to say is this: I think Asa Butterfield captured the compassionate side of Ender pretty well. But I never really believed he was the commander Ender from the book. One of the unique things about Ender’s character is the strong dualism of empathy and logic. It is one of the reasons I always related to him so much. He is brilliant and fierce and strong with a deep core of compassion. It would be a difficult role to capture at a young age. But I think it could be done. There are some very talented child actors out there (I can’t help but think of Freddie Highmore in “Finding Neverland”). That is why I say I hope someone remakes it in a few years. Or better yet, that someone makes a mini-series out of it.:)
Is it worth watching? I think so. (Like I said…the visuals!!) But read the book twice for every time you watch the film.