The classic sci-fi novel Ender’s Game finally makes it to the big screen, nearly 30 years after its publication.  Author Orson Scott Card waited until he could make sure that his vision of the story and characters prevailed, and the best part of that wait has been that technology has caught up to his imaginings.  Ender’s Game provides an expertly-paced film that asks tough questions about the best and worst aspects of humanity, as all good science fiction does.

Unlike most of those who will flock to theaters to see the film, I have never read the book.  It has always been on my bucket list, but instead I saw this as a novice.  I went with a friend who read the book when it was first published, and he seemed satisfied with the adaptation.  The film telescopes a lot of the book, as a film must do to fit into the two-hour format (unless your name is Peter Jackson, whose trailers nearly run two hours), but I was assured that the film retains the spirit and characterization in the novel.

If so, it’s easy to see why Ender’s Game won such acclaim.  In a future rendered bleak by a previous alien invasion, humanity has united around a single purpose: to make sure the aliens can never do it again.  A military dictatorship runs the planet, and they decide that the only strategy to defeat the swarming alien attacks are to use exceptional children who can process complex data more efficiently.  The moral ambiguities of this decision become acute at various points, but more surprising is the question of whether Ender Wiggin and his cohorts have been told the truth about the aliens — and which side is fighting for survival.

The cast helps bring the characters to life.  Much as the future of Earth rests on Ender, the film rests on the terrific performance by Asa Butterfield in the title role.  Harrison Ford matches up well as Graff, the colonel who has to get Ender ready for the big battle, which may not be exactly what Ender thinks.  Viola Davis plays the military psychiatrist posing some of the uncomfortable ethical questions but really isn’t given much else to do.  The rest of the performances don’t measure up, but at least they don’t get in the way.  Thanks to the telescoping of the training sequences in the book, the rapid success of Ender tends to look a little contrived, but that doesn’t get in the way, either.

Even for those who haven’t read the book, Ender’s Game is a good-bordering-on-excellent film.  For fans of the book, it’s must-see cinema.  On the Hot Air scale, Ender’s Game gets a 5:

  • 5 – Full price ticket
  • 4 – Matinee only
  • 3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
  • 2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
  • 1 – Avoid at all costs

Ender’s Game is rated PG-13 for violence, action, and heavier themes, but that’s a tad misleading.  My 11-year-old granddaughter read the book this summer, and I wouldn’t have a problem taking her to see it.

Update: It should be noted that there was a small but vocal contingent on the Left demanding a boycott of the film because of Orson Scott Card’s opposition to same-sex marriage.  I doubt that they will have any impact on the box office for Ender’s Game, and if you’re inclined to get annoyed at these shout-down efforts, buy a ticket and make your annoyance felt in real terms.  I didn’t mention this earlier because the film really does stand on its own quite well.