‘Ender’s Game’ is satisfying Sci-Fi, as long as you haven’t read the book

Since its initial publication in 1985, Ender’s Game has become one of the most important science fiction books of the 20th century. Originally appearing as a short story in Analog magazine in 1977, author Orson Scott Card went on to win the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and write 11 sequels to his original work – which he himself thought of as little more than a set up for the next novel starring the character of Ender, Speaker for the Dead. Because of the loyalty and feelings so many people have for this property, there are going to be some very different opinions on the film version based on what you are expecting.

This review is presented through the lens of a longtime fan.

The film adaption of Ender’s Game has knocked around the development halls of Hollywood for a long time. The very nature of translating this book into film is problematic, at least on the surface. One reason the book was so effective is the way the reader truly gets inside Ender’s head; which is just not something you can really do in two hours of screen time. Therefore the film has to take a more visual direction, and as a result it fractures from the book fairly early.

The very nature of translating this book into film is problematic, at least on the surface.

Like the book, the film follows the story of Ender Wiggin (played by Hugo’s Asa Butterfield), after he is selected for the International Fleet’s recruiting program. The hope is that Ender and those like him can become skilled commanders in the fight against the insectoid Formics who nearly wiped out humanity in a previous invasion, and whose specter very much lives on. The IF selects children in the hopes that their ability to learn, paired with quick reaction time, will help combat the Formics. Sort of like how your three year-old nephew can work your mobile phone ten times better than you can.

Part of what makes Ender stand out is his relationship with his vicious older brother Peter (Jimmy Pinchak) and his loving sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin). Their yin and yang personalities help balance Ender between the good and the bad, ingredients that the IF is looking for in their commanders, even though Ender himself worries that he may have a little too much of Peter’s brutal yin in him after brutally beating a fellow student at school.

Ender soon finds himself on the way to the orbital Battle School thanks to the machinations of Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), who sees huge potential in Ender. There he learns combat skills and tactics in zero gravity, and he shows a natural ability that puts him at odds with his own commander Bonzo (Moises Arias). Despite resistance to his abilities, Ender quickly rises through the ranks and constantly faces challenges – both seen and unseen – from both the school and Graff. After graduating to Command School under the tutelage of the legendary commander Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), Ender is forced to confront his own nature before he can begin his final challenge.

The book is a beautifully crafted work that presents multiple facets of Ender. In the film we are only presented with one, and as a result the character loses some luster regardless of the medium. Butterfield does a good job with what he is given, but the role was written for a much younger child. Butterfield (who is currently 16) looks and acts like a teenager here, and as a result Ender is a character that is familiar and his reactions to the extreme world he is thrust into are unremarkable.

Somewhat puzzling are the casting of Breslin and Hailee Steinfeld as Petra Arkanian, a fellow student. Both are fantastic and acclaimed young actors, but both roles are very minor in this film. Breslin’s Valentine is hardly in it at all, despite the importance she plays in the resolution of the film.

… there is a lack of emotional weight behind many of the scenes.

Ford’s Graff is presented as stoic and stalwart, and fairly one-note. Graff is meant to be grooming the savior of mankind, but he doesn’t seem to struggle much with the fact that this just a child he’s dealing with, or the damage he may be inflicting on Ender’s soul. There is also precious little interaction between Ford and Kingsley, which should have been a pairing that would make sparks fly. It is wasted potential. 

The film also cuts out a subplot from the book following Peter and Valentine back on Earth. Cuts obviously needed to be made to turn a lengthy book into a film, and Director Gavin Hood explained that those sequences simply wouldn’t work in the movie version. Unfortunately, this means the film ignores what is taking place back on Earth during Ender’s training. The removal leaves a hole in the film that stands out starkly, which is odd given that the filmmakers want to turn this into a franchise based on the novels.


Fans of the book are going to find the changes difficult to accept, but the movie is not without merit, and the zero gravity sequences in the battle school are easily the best. They fly by at an accelerated pace though, and you’ll find yourself wishing for more. Packing this into a movie format means slicing things off, which is understandable. The film moves along at such a breakneck speed with the final scene in the movie arriving before you expect it.

Based on a book or not, the film just doesn’t resonate with the audience. By the time the credits roll, longtime fans of the novel might have to admit that this could possibly be the best version of the book that could exist on film. In doing so, however, both film and book fans may have to add the caveat that perhaps this never should have been a movie in the first place.

Movies & TV

How ‘invisible’ effects brought Winnie the Pooh to life in ‘Christopher Robin’

Christopher Robin earned an Academy Award nomination for the innovative way it merged Winnie the Pooh and other imaginary characters with its human cast in postwar London. Here's how visual effects studio Framestore worked its movie magic.
Home Theater

The best Dolby Atmos movies for your home theater sound as good as they look

If you've got your hands on some sweet Dolby Atmos gear, the next step is to find films that take advantage of it. These are our picks in several genres for the best Dolby Atmos movies currently available on Blu-ray and streaming services.
Home Theater

What’s new on Amazon Prime Video (March 2019)

Amazon Prime Video adds new titles each month that are available for free to all Prime members. Check out our list to find all the content hitting Amazon Prime Video in February and March, from new original series to classic films.
Movies & TV

How Avengers: Infinity War’s Oscar-nominated VFX team made Thanos a movie star

The purple-skinned Thanos proved to be a breakout character in Avengers: Infinity War, thanks to the work of actor Josh Brolin and visual effects studios Digital Domain and Weta. Here's how they brought him to life and earned the film an…

Xbox-exclusive games could find a second home on Nintendo Switch

Microsoft is reportedly set to release some of its first-party games on Nintendo Switch, as well as the Xbox Game Pass and Project xCloud services. Cross-play between Switch and Xbox One is already enabled.

Transform into a tetromino master with our Tetris 99 tips and tricks

Tetris 99 is the latest battle royale game to stir up quite a bit of commotion. The Nintendo Switch Online exclusive adds a few new unexplained quirks to the Tetris formula. We've got you covered with our Tetris 99 tips and tricks.

Metro Exodus update brings DLSS improvements to Nvidia RTX 20-series PCs

Having issues in Metro Exodus? A February 21 update for the title recently delivered enhancements to Nvidia’s deep learning supersampling feature and other fixes for low-specced PCs. 

Need to perform a factory reset on your Xbox One console? Here's how to do it

Whether you're upgrading to a One X and giving your old console to a friend, or troubleshooting a technical issue, sometimes your Xbox One needs a clean slate. Here's our quick guide on how to factory reset an Xbox One.

Battle royale-style Tetris 99 is the first Nintendo Switch Online-exclusive game

If you want to play online multiplayer on Switch, you'll need a Nintendo Switch Online subscription. Here's what you need to know about Nintendo Switch Online, from price to features to the awesome library of NES games.

The best PUBG weapons to win you that coveted chicken dinner

Which weapons in PUBG are worth the time to scout out and fit with attachments? Which are going to help you become the last player standing? We've got the answers you need in our best PUBG weapons guide.

Here's where Xur is and what he has for wares this week in Destiny 2: Forsaken

The weekly vendor in Destiny 2: Forsaken always brings Exotic weapons and armor, some of the toughest loot to find in the game. Here's everything you need to know to track down Xur: Where he is, when he shows up, and what he's stocking.

Want to play as Iron Man or Waluigi in GTA V? Our favorite mods make it possible

Grand Theft Auto V is best on the PC for many reasons, and modifications may be the most important. You can cause riots, spawn unique cars, and play as a cop with just a few extra files.

Walmart slices prices on PS4 DualShock 4 controllers just in time for Anthem

The standard black PS4 controller is what usually comes with the console itself, but if you want to add something a bit more customized your gaming experience, Walmart is offering a wide variety of colorful DualShock 4 controllers at…

How you can give your PS4 a fresh start with a factory reset

Learn the many ways you can factory reset your PS4. From reverting your settings to factory to doing a full wipe and reinstalling the latest PlayStation firmware, we cover it all here, step by step.