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Review by EnderWiggin.net founder Crystal Watanabe

Yesterday I had the amazing pleasure of watching the result of years of hard work by Gavin Hood and his amazing cast and crew after covering my very first red carpet premiere. For the last week I’d been half-reading reviews, scrolling through one-line Twitter reviews, and going through a hand-wringing roller coaster of anticipation and apprehension.

I’ve talked a lot with Kelly from Ender News about the mutually shared terror that we might have done all this work only to hate the movie. When I saw The Hunger Games at the world premiere last year, I left the Nokia with the dull buzz of disappointment in my head as everyone around me raved about the movie. I never really truly got over that opinion and so going into Ender’s Game, I had no illusions about the fact that I might actually end up in a moody funk at the after party.

Fortunately, I had nothing to worry about.

The Good

The first thing I have to say that it was a dream come true to watch Ender’s Game sitting next to my Ender BFF Kelly, so Summit Entertainment has my sincerest thanks for inviting us to the screening, giving us carpet access, and inviting us to hang out afterwards as well. When you share your geeky hopes and dreams about a movie for 36 weeks on a podcast, you really start to cling to the idea of experiencing the movie for the first time with that person.

The fansite girls! L-R: Ender's Game Fandom, Ender's Ansible, EnderWiggin.net, Ender News

The fansite girls! L-R: Ender’s Game Fandom, Ender’s Ansible, EnderWiggin.net, Ender News

 

Thankfully, Kelly is a movie-talker too because we were constantly leaning over to say things to each other. At one point, she whispered in my ear, “This is surprisingly good! I’m really enjoying myself!” and I could only say, “I know! Me too!”

I don’t know why we went in with so much apprehension. Perhaps it’s because we’d heard a bad vibe from Germany. Maybe it was the fact that Gavin Hood recognized us on the carpet right away and came at us like Chunk in Goonies, sure that he was in trouble because he thought we’d already seen it. Either way, we were happy and once again found ourselves on the same level of thought.

I think what surprised me the most was how light-hearted and funny the movie was. With the cast focusing their interviews on the serious aspects of the movie, it was easy to walk in assuming it was going to to be strictly saving the world business the entire time. When you get down to it though, the movie still stars kids and with kids being kids, there were quite a few laughs. There’s one particular line of Bean’s that was truly hysterical and made the whole theater crack up laughing.

I know some people hate voiceover, but with the majority of Ender’s Game taking place inside Ender’s head, Gavin Hood needed some kind of method of getting inside his head. To do this he had Asa do voiceover of emails Ender writes to Valentine. These occur throughout the film and I felt it helped to really move the story along. Without it, I think fresh viewers would have been extremely confused.

The Mind Game was beautiful, though parts of it were excised. I’d seen a lot of concept art from it in the official companion and on screen it looked great. And seriously, Gavin Hood’s giant is one of the most epic director cameos ever.

The Bad

I think Orson Scott Card summed up the bad the best when he recently spoke to a newspaper in New Zealand and said that the movie “rockets along at a breakneck pace”. The movie clocks in at under two hours, which, if I’m being honest, shocked me and so I went in expecting to feel like I was watching the movie on fast forward.

The pacing of Ender's Game, taking off from Desert Salt Flats.

The pacing of Ender’s Game, taking off from Desert Salt Flats.

The film definitely suffered from a rushed feeling and I’d really love to see an extended version released because I really did feel like some parts could have benefited from just a couple of more minutes here and there. I had this odd feeling throughout the movie like I was seeing the movie through some weird movie version of parent goggles and that people walking into this movie without reading the book would find that while the acting, visuals, and sets were simply stunning, it was all just going too fast. But then again, perhaps the feeling of urgency is easier to accept without prior book bias.

For diehard book fans, change will probably be the hardest thing to swallow.

Since I had the chance to go to the Ender’s Game set, talk extensively with the people behind the movie, and have interacted with the cast over the last two years, I feel like I’ve been inoculated to the changes that were going to be coming at me in the movie. With that in mind, it’s possible that because of this I was more accepting of changes that may be stark and jarring for fans just hearing about the movie last month and going to the theater to see what’s up with their favorite book from high school.

Knowing as much as I did, there were more changes I did not know about and while I felt they were all necessary for the film Gavin Hood made, I think some fans will find it hard to swallow. One in particular is on the subject I’d brought up last year on the death of Stilson.

In Pondering the Fate of Stilson, I laid out why I didn’t think Stilson needed to die and why I felt like his death was too dangerous a message to send out on the big screen. Response was almost 100% against me. Everyone felt that Stilson had to die, even though I argued in discussions that since Ender didn’t know it happened until years later, it didn’t have any bearing on his development as a character.

People can argue with me until they’re blue in the face; I will never be convinced that reading about a child’s death is equal to watching a child die in a movie. The two are completely different forms of media and what a pre-teen or teen imagines while reading a scene such as Ender and Stilson’s fight will range anywhere from tame to excessively violent depending on the individual and you can’t put a fight to the death on screen and expect that wide spectrum of youth to experience a single visual vision the same way.

In the movie, it is never specifically said that Stilson or Bonzo die; their fates are left ambiguous and most moviegoers that haven’t read the book will assume that they live. This is a choice that I fully agree with. The risks the studio would have taken sending that kind of message out on the subject of bullying was not one they should be expected to take. Bullying is a serious, serious issue with today’s youth and justifying Ender’s actions that led to another child’s death would have been stepping over a line no book fan should expect to be crossed for the sake of a film adaptation. Ender lives in an extreme situation, but you can’t assume everyone will fully understand that, especially when a lot of people will see this movie without having read the book.

In the end, my advice to fans is to go in with an open mind.

Ender-Petra-Training

One last thing that can fall into the bad category (and yet not) is the relationship between Petra and Ender. The cast, director, and producers talked a good deal about their friendship and how drawn they are together as friends, but the fact of the matter is that there is an underlying connection between the two of them that hints at something more.

From the things Petra says to Ender to the way they smile at each other while training to the mysterious way Petra sits while talking to Ender from her room on Eros, that teen love interest angle is very carefully there.

That being said, it doesn’t come across as a bad thing. These kids are, after all, at that age and to excise even a hint of young love completely would have probably felt a little too rigid and made Ender seem unrelatable to teens his own age. If Ender had been 8 having a crush on a 12 year-old Petra, then I can see there being a valid argument, but as the movie stands, what they did felt appropriate.

The Awesome

Asa Butterfield is an amazing Ender. I did catch one time where his American accent seemed to slip slightly, but other than that, I was very impressed with his performance. His smile makes you happy and sad at the same time, but when Ender is crying you get to see the emotional core of the Ender that book fans know and love. I never really felt like I was watching Asa Butterfield. I felt like I was watching Ender Wiggin.

ENDER'S GAME

On a similar note, I’d read criticism that Abigail Breslin is underutilized, but I was surprised at how well she pulled off the character of Valentine with practically nothing being said about how intelligent she really was. From her clothing to the way she walked and talked, she felt like Valentine to me.

Peter did not have much screen time, but Jimmy Jax Pinchak pulled off the character really well. One of my favorite Peter scenes in the book wasn’t present, but I didn’t even notice. Seeing Jimmy at the after party in a suit and tie wearing glasses was like a knock in the face. I was like, wow, the movie’s over and here’s Peter Wiggin the Hegemon! It was surreal in an amusing book nerd kind of way.

The Battle Room was grand and at one point I just wanted to blurt out, “LOOK at that Battle Room!” Graff’s hook was really cool and the way these kids hit the stars made me cringe every time. When we interviewed the kids on the carpet, we usually asked them their favorite scene and a lot of them went straight to the Battle Room. They weren’t wrong as the battles were amazing to watch in such an amazing arena.

The only drawback was that before you know it, the Battle Room scenes are over. However, when you have the director telling you that some 3 second shots cost $100,000 to produce, it puts the lack of more Battle Room into perspective. Gavin told us he did try for more, so we’ll all have to trust that the did what he could.

Building0193

The impressiveness of the Battle Room aside, what amazed me the most in terms of VFX was Ender’s simulator on Eros. We were lucky enough to be able to stand on that platform that Ender stands at and it was in this gigantic green screen room. I remember standing there looking up and just being in awe over what they were going for and I wasn’t disappointed. Being a former hardcore MMO gamer, I loved the look of happy awe on Ender’s face as he saw what they’d set up for him.

In terms of writing, I loved the way Gavin wrote the final reveal to Ender. The scene that follows his last victory is sad, tragic, and emotional in all the ways you expect it to be with Asa Butterfield’s Ender. I also loved how he tied the Battle Room into the finale because it was an issue I’d always had trouble understanding with the book.

I got to talk to Gavin about it at the after party and he said the same thing: how do you explain the correlation of such rigorous physical training from the Battle Room to pure simulation, basically kids sitting on their butts playing “games” all day, in Command School? I thought how he explained that on film was a great choice in storytelling.

Overall, I thought the film was an amazing accomplishment and one kick ass ride. The cast turned out great performances and I’m proud and happy for all of the kids who stood around Ender making him who he is. Throughout the entire movie I kept thinking to myself: I have to see this again. I have to see this again. And I will.

Some fans will enjoy it, others may walk away disappointed. But what’s particularly exhilarating for me is that it’s finally here. My mother gave me this book twenty three years ago and as soon as I finished it, I could only wait for a movie to be made.

I waited a long time.

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  • Skyboat Media

    Great review. And great news that you liked it! We can’t wait to see it.

    • http://twitter.com/EnderNet EnderWiggin.net

      Thanks! Hope you enjoy it!

  • Wendy Clare

    Superb, Crystal. You answered nearly every question I could have, and your points about Stilson and Bonzo were ones I’d honestly never thought of before. The only pseudo spoiler you /didn’t/ address was the shower scene…was it well-done??? Garth (I think that’s his name, right?) spoke so highly of it in the podcast, I’ve been completely curious to hear how it turned out. And kudos also for being the ONLY reviewer so far to mention Asa’s accent!! That was something that impressed me from the very first teaser trailer. It’s harder than it sounds to do that, and for him at his age to nail it so well is no minor accomplishment.

    Bottom line is, I’m THRILLED to hear your reaction! Now on to Kelly’s! And congrats on getting to share the premiere experience together! :-D <

    • http://twitter.com/EnderNet EnderWiggin.net

      The shower scene was over and done with in a flash, but I think it’s easy to mistakenly think a fight like that would be longer.

      Scenes were definitely cut from the film. For instance, we saw a still on set of Petra at the door to the shower room but that wasn’t there. There was another of Bonzo standing on a table and that was missing as well. This is why I have hopes for an extended cut.

  • Theodore Bailey

    Kind of awful that they give Petra and Ender a bit of a wink wink nudge nudge relationship seeing as how Petra is too strong of a character in Battle School to really even want to focus on something like that. It also (spoiler) weakens the importance of Bean and Petra’s relationship in Shadow of the Hegemon.

  • Erin Poulin

    Soooooooooo happy you liked it, Crystal! I have my tickets to go see it on Saturday. :)

  • Theodore Bailey

    Oops left this bit out. While your point about Stilson is both correct and completely understandable, the book was written to be edgy with a purpose. Stilson was really Ender’s first test to see if he qualified for Battle School. Just as Bonzo was metaphorically his last for Command School. The death of a child is a touchy matter. But the point is is that every controversy in the book ranging from the homosocial interactions to even Ender’s questionable (I say questionable as it is completely respectable to have both a belief and disbelief in the possible incestuous theme in the book, it’s really just a preference of analysis) thoughts towards his sibling are all in the book with a complete and full purpose. Such an edgy book was never meant to be for the big screen. Though nice they did it, because it’s Hollywood, they have to sprinkle a bit of sunshine on gruesome details to not upset the kiddies and mommies out there. Now I’m not saying you’re any less of a fan for not having a problem with them taking the deaths OUT. It’s just my personal belief that it’s a detail that should have been left IN. To each their own, as they say.

    • http://twitter.com/EnderNet EnderWiggin.net

      I still maintain that for the character of Ender, Stilson and Bonzo dying did not affect him because they died. They affect him because he hurt them because that’s what he believed he did. So to have him hurt them in the film is completely fine imo.

      My guess is that they DID film a scene between Graff and Anderson where they mention Bonzo’s dead, just so they had that option. But in the end, they didn’t use it and I’m fine with that.

      • Theodore Bailey

        Well I believe at one point they do address the killings as ‘he was willing to go that far so he’s just the right kid’, whilst his pain over the incident was the morality that they wanted that they were missing from Peter. I see your point about it not being necessary for his CHARACTER. But perhaps the adults wanted it as a final show to them that he was THE ONE. I guess it’s just one of those things that’s destined to be argued about with the book.

  • Jay

    I’m just gonna read the whole thing after i watch the movie! :-)
    Glad you had a great time at the premier and meeting the cast and the director.
    Only 1 Day to go!

  • Pingback: Grantland Documents the Incredible Development Journey of 'Ender's Game'

  • http://ibmiller.livejournal.com/ Ian Miller

    Your last line is perfect. :)

    • http://twitter.com/EnderNet EnderWiggin.net

      Oh my freaking god, finally someone caught that! Thank you! lol

      • http://ibmiller.livejournal.com/ Ian Miller

        Thank you for being such a great fan, and writing such an impassioned review and providing such great resources! Keep up the great work!

  • fwuffmeister

    Beautiful ending line!! Thank you so much for being such a dedicated fan and keeping this website going.

    I usually don’t write on fan-sites, but I just watched the movie with someone who hasn’t read the book, so I need somewhere to vent where people know the book… consequently, *SPOILER ALERT* for the rest of this post.

    First off, I think that the cast needs to be congratulated: there were really some touching moments, and I was a lot happier with Ford in the movie than in the trailers – I don’t mean to sound condescending at all, but the trailers cut so many things and put them together that I thought the emotion didn’t come through very effectively. But in the movie it did, and I thought they all gave wonderful performances. I agree about the accent slipping for Butterfield (actually I think I’ve heard his normal British accent too much to really hear what he says as being in an American accent, but that’s probably just me), but I didn’t really care about the accent because he’s just SO awesome, especially in the post-battle scene. I also thought that Davis in particular was incredible considering that she didn’t even have that many lines but did so much with them.

    The problem is that I went into this movie really wanting to be completely amazed and loving it, and even though I know that things need to be changed when a book is adapted into a film, I was still really miffed by some of the changes. My verdict coming out was thus that ‘it was ok, there were some really great things but it’s very different from the book’. I agree that much of the essence was kept, I guess I’m just a book purist or something haha, so please pardon my criticism. But anyway. The queen at the end, for example – I understand that it would have been really hard to show the communication between Ender and an egg, but I thought that took it too far. I’m also really annoyed about Ender not going on the trip/into exile with Valentine; I think it’s going to be very hard to make a Speaker of the Dead sequel. I also can’t imagine what it would be like seeing the film without reading the book – the ansible thing was kind of slipped in there and I don’t think people would have really understood it if they hadn’t read the book. (Also, was anyone else a bit miffed by how the “speaking for the dead” thing was kind of sneaked in there in Rackham’s dialogue? I really appreciated it in a ‘I’m a fan of the books so I know what this is supposed to refer to, yay private laughter/little smile’ but I really do think that the speaking for the dead thing was supposed to be Ender’s idea.) As has already been noted, the movie in general was also very fast-paced and at times pretty abrupt. I understand that it’s completely impossible to compress a book of such depth into a relatively short movie, but I thought it was just a shame that some moments didn’t have any time to land. And I think someone might have already mentioned this, but the Bonzo-Ender dynamic doesn’t quite work when Butterfield is so much taller. Well, actually they portrayed the characters really well so the bully-attitude is definitely still there, but it just really doesn’t look like Ender has little to no chance of winning the fight, and Bonzo’s scary power is a bit diminished. Also the whole oh no call for medical help ok now I’m going to visit him in hospital thing was so different, but I guess it was a necessary decision to make, especially for a PG-13 movie. At least there was no gratuitous violence. I also thought they did the Petra-Ender relationship rather dangerously, but I guess it kind of portrayed Petra’s crush on Ender pretty well (even though it doesn’t really come across in the book that much, we find out about that stuff a little in the Shadow series if I’m not gravely mistaken). Oh I was also a bit confused by how Ender had to be told to delegate things to Bean when he was on Eros, because isn’t that his strategy all along, to let Bean improvise? I thought it was a shame that instead of that being part of what makes him Ender, it was something that someone else told him. Oh well.

    All that being said, I thought that the animation for the mind game was INCREDIBLE. So beautifully done. (I actually didn’t realise that the giant was Hood… so thanks for pointing that out!) And much of the set and costume design was perfect. The lake scene was beautiful. We’ve obviously seen the army logos for months now, but it was still so wonderful and somehow still surprising how perfect they look. The scene with Ender in Salamander shooting with two guns is wonderful in a classic, ‘man he’s such a bad-ass’ kind of way. And I agree about the humour – Bean’s lines were great!!

    There is probably even more that I could vent about, but in the course of writing this too-long post I’ve temporarily forgotten some things… in any case, thank you so much EnderWiggin.net for giving me this outlet, and I hope to have some feedback! (and hopefully allow me to think that I’m not the only one with this viewpoint haha)

  • Thuan Nguyen

    awesome review.. i love it! as a fan of the book, i was very much looking forward to the movie. and i really enjoyed it! Asa was an awesome Ender! great adaption!! :)

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