I remember first reading Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. I remember how much I loved the characters and the graceful manner in which Card was able to articulate complex battle sequences in zero-G gravity. The depth that Card brought to his story world was incredibly immersive. Going into the film version of Ender's Game, it seemed impossible to re-create the same emotions in the span of two hours. Unfortunately, this proves to be the case as the film fails to live up to the brilliant book and only manages to capture elements of the popular story while missing the overall tone and feel of the story.
That's not to say that Ender's Game doesn't give it its best shot. Make no mistake, this isn't like the raping that took place when World War Z was brought to the big-screen, virtually unidentifiable from its source material. No, here the filmmakers hold true to the book; trying unsuccessfully, but ambitiously, to include everything from the novel. And that is the problem. Card's book is so full of well-crafted storytelling that it simply isn't possible to capture it all in one "blockbuster" movie. Instead of selectively choosing the elements that are most important, the filmmakers decided to cram everything into one sitting. The result is a plodding mesh of amazing special effects, underdeveloped characters, and half-realized moments that were more effective in the book.
The film's plot follows the book's closely. Young genius Ender Wiggins is a potential recruit in a highly-exclusive military training program. The purpose of this program is to train future commanders for war against a bug-like alien species that was barely defeated years earlier in an attempt to colonize Earth. Since then, the world's military forces have banded together to prepare for the next attack. To this aim the military has developed a zero-G battle school set in a space station orbiting the Earth. The most hopeful of these future commanders face-off in this arena in the hopes of finding the next Mazer Rackham, the hero of the first bugger war. After proving his worth on Earth, Ender is chosen to participate in this elite training program. His recruiter, Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford looking kinda old), believes that Ender is the next great leader in the war against the bugs.
Make no mistake, there are many things to admire about Ender's Game. The special effects are top-notch. The realization of the battle school is spot on and captures the feel of this unique training environment perfectly as it was portrayed in the novel. Die-hard fans of the Card's book will be happy to see that the majority of the book's plot is also kept intact. While this may actually have been detrimental to a film that can't seem to decide what it wants to be, those audience members that just want to see all of their favorite parts from the book will be satisfied. The look of the film is also extremely well-done; matching the book very closely. The set design is particularly impressive with locales ranging over numerous planets, space stations, and Earth locations - all of which seem authentic to the Card's vision.
Unfortunately, that is pretty much where the list of strengths ends and the list of weaknesses begin. The performances in Ender's Game are uniformly weak. This is mostly due to the poorly written screenplay by Gavin Hood and Orson Scott Card. It seems that there was a push-pull going on in the writing process with one side pushing for everything from the book to be incorporated into the story (Card?) and other side trying to temper that feeling and establish a rhythm in the story (Hood?). These two forces never seem to find balance. There are scenes that are meant to develop our characters, but they are so forced that they don't make us feel one way or the other about the characters involved. Instead, most of the characters come across as cliches; the bully, the undersized-but-wise kid, the overbearing mentor, etc. And instead of choosing one or two scenes that could best establish a character; the writers throw everything from the novel and therefore nothing has time to develop. The plot also suffers from this lack of decision-making from the writers. By the time the third act comes around, the writers have so utterly failed to create any story momentum that the climax comes with the force of a dull thud.
Ender's Game has been highly anticipated by the geek community for more than 20 years now. While this adaptation is faithful to the book, the film experience that it creates is plodding and tedious. The characters are underdeveloped and the movie carries almost zero emotional resonance with it's story. Even the impressive computer effects and set design can't save Ender's Game from being a huge disappointment. Don't waste your money in the theaters on this one, it will be equally mediocre on the small-screen.