(Review by EnderWiggin.net staffer Liz Spencer)
So Crystal has posted her official review, and it’s good stuff. I was the lucky tag-along who got to have the experience of a lifetime and attend this red carpet premiere with our famous webmaster. We made it home in the wee hours of the morning, but were absolutely too wired to sleep. So I present to you now my 3AM ramblings, the unedited review that created itself as I just couldn’t lie down without writing it all out. I’ll be seeing the movie again tonight, as Summit Entertainment has been kind enough to provide us with quite a few tickets to an advanced screening here in Honolulu (if you haven’t asked Crystal for tickets, there’s still time!). So it’s quite possible that my opinions might change, as tends to happen any second time ’round. But here is my initial reaction for your review.
I’ll start right off by saying that I was not as horribly disappointed by this film as I feared I would be. However, I was also not as pleasantly surprised as I hoped I would be, especially after reading reviews from several fellow fans who kindled in my mind a small fire of hope that all my worries would be for naught.
It was a good film, but it was not a great film, and what makes it so frustrating is that all the elements were in place to create what truly could have been a marvelous adaptation.
It was just too dang fast. All the key plot pieces were there, and they were actually done rather well. But it didn’t matter, because the story took off at a sprint and never realized that it should have been pacing itself for a marathon. Or at least a 5K.
If I had not read the book, and went into this story completely blind, I would be asking several very important questions right now. First, I would not for a minute buy the plot. So we’re training kids to command our entire international fleet, protect our civilization from imminent destruction, and somehow they are both capable and qualified to do this after about six months in space playing laser tag?
Condensing the timeline was a killer. It took away from the authenticity of the story. To those naysayers who have complained over the years that the story was totally impractical anyway (and I bite my thumb at them) it was at least more plausible under the original terms. Taking children – real children, not adolescents – removing them from their homes, and conditioning them under the strictest of environments for half their natural lives, one can appreciate the depth of their training, their study, and their practice.
Of course this was also the biggest plot element that had to be revised. And this is entirely understandable, and why I have always known that any film adaptation of this book will never do it justice. Because unless they make a 20-episode miniseries (which I think would actually work fantastically) there is no way to chart the time and the growth that must occur. But I guess I was just hoping that Gavin Hood would have made it work better.
It’s not good when even I didn’t believe that Ender was capable of what they were asking him to do. From what I saw, he showed up at Battle School, spent two days as a launchie, got transferred to Salamander, was in one battle, got promoted to commander, was in another battle, fought Bonzo, quit, decided to come back the next day, flew to Command School, met his army, and was ready to conquer the home planet in like a week. While there are several “Dear Valentine”letters that are meant to inform us of the true passage of time, we just don’t see enough of his teaching, his training, and his tactical leadership to understand why Graff seems to think he’s that big of a deal.
And here’s where this all really sucks. Because all of these individual plot segments were actually done pretty well. If I was just watching them as clips, I’d think, “Oh, that was cool, I can’t wait to see the rest of it.” But there is no rest of it. There was no pacing, no waiting, no ten seconds to catch your breath and actually establish a scene. I didn’t have time to grow to care about Ender, really care about him. And again, if I hadn’t read the book, I don’t think I would have appreciated his internal struggle. I knew what he was supposed to be thinking because I KNEW what he was supposed to be thinking.
And again, this sucks. Because the performances were great. I actually have no qualms with any of the actors. Asa Butterfield was magnificent. Once I accepted a 15-year old Ender (who could legitimately pass for 13) he did embody the character. If he had been given more time, more TIME to reflect and study, watch those Bugger vids and monologue a little, I would have been able to truly appreciate and believe in his story. Harrison Ford was also good, and had several excellent lines, but also suffered from a sheer lack of time. Ben Kingsley was great (I don’t know what some of those reviewers are whining about), and all the other kids were good, but given so little to do they seemed merely extraneous. They tried to build up Bean, but he never got a chance to do more than act as comedic relief (which he did very well). Moises Arias (who I was terribly, terribly worried would bring down this entire thing himself) actually made a convincing Bonzo. Unfortunately, the theater was laughing every time he was on screen. Because it WAS funny that he was so little and trying to be so tough, and while he did a good job, you never felt that Ender was in any danger at all because all he would have to do is stiff-arm the guy and he’d never get near him.
Time. It needed more time. I’m hoping for an extended edition DVD release, but even that won’t fix some of the intrinsic rushing of these scenes. So in the end, I give it a passing grade. Of course the visuals were awesome (I just realized that I haven’t even mentioned them), but what I wanted was the story. The struggle. The journey. This cast and crew took on a most difficult project and performed admirably, and I freely acknowledge the near-impossibility of making it work just right. I guess I just hoped for a miracle. Thank you, Gavin, for all that you did. Your heart was truly in it– our visions just differ is all.