Ender's Game is one of those books that I read at least once a year. I really love it. It tells the story of a boy taken off to a school in space to learn how to fight an alien species that earth barely cast off when it invaded earth years before. The idea is they will train these children to be battle geniuses so they can invade the alien system and destroy them before the aliens return and destroy earth. There's a twist at the end that none of us saw coming and then it's over except for the mopping up.
That's the story I tell if someone asks me to describe the book. It is also the story they showed in the movie. There's an entire B story-line that involves the protagonist's siblings that was left out of the movie... and my description. Big holes left in the story. Some of the holes are holes of motivation and the like for our hero. There were several decisions made to convert the story from book to film.
1) Instead of using children who are about 5yo (like in book) they used teenagers. Makes sense.
2) Instead of it taking place over years (in book) the movie took place over about a month. Okay.
3) There appeared to be a romantic interest in the movie that wasn't in the book. Unnecessary.
4) The Battle Room in book was completely controlled environment, light, dark, star distribution etc. In movie it was made out of glass and orientation was easy, Earth was down, not enemy's gate. Wrong. I think this decision was made to wow the audience, not move the story along like all the other decisions.
Graff in the book was an asshole who you knew cared about the future of earth as well as the boys in his charge. Graff in the movie... Harrison Ford smiling down at Asa Butterfield whenever he would kick the snot out of somebody, or talk about what his motivations were for beating the hell out of someone... his little sideways half smile came off more as a lascivious leer to me than a smile of "Last Great Hope of Humanity." I really was disturbed by Graff in the movie, more than I was by Graff in the book.
+Allen Simpson says that this was on purpose because it's a Young Adult story converted to movie so the adults weren't the focus so they were painted in broad two-dimensional strokes. There's some truth to that. The YA trope of Adults are clueless certainly came into play at the end of the movie when, on a remote planet with an unbreathable (almost breathable means unbreathable... if you keep breathing it you die means unbreathable) atmosphere two pre-teens run out, unstopped, leaving the door wide open and run of onto the planet and no alarms went off or anything. They just wandered out... Ugh. That wasn't in the book.
The Battle Room was talked about in the book a lot. There were pages talking about developing tactics, friendships, and bonds with fellow "soldiers" in the battle room. Ender, our hero, eating himself up with ulcers and exhaustion over months of battles in the battle room... it was a big part of the book. In the movie it was condensed to about ten minutes of wide shots that showed nothing except the transparent walls, earth in the background, little obstacles (called "stars" in the book) they could hide behind and maneuver around and flashes of light and the pew-pew sound of laser guns that evidently are spring loaded. And, while they fire a visible immediate, one shot of light Petra tells Ender to hold the beam on the person. There's no beam. It's a bolt. It fires and is gone. Ugh, hated the Battle Room. It was shown in the movie but was, like Ender's relationship with his siblings, largely left out and unimportant... until they needed it to be later.
There could have been time to show via flashback Ender's complicated relationship with his older brother instead of literally a 2 minute scene where an apparently 17 year old Peter made his evidently 13 year old brother put on a rubber mask so Peter could beat him up. Yeah. Seriously. How many 17 & 13 year olds do you know who would do that? When the ages were 9 & 5 in the book it was more believable... a 17 year old though? Yeah. Not likely at all... too unbelievable. And that was literally the only scene his brother was ever in that wasn't in the mind game on the computer. And that scene was supposed to establish some primae mobilia for Ender in the movie. His whole goal was to "not be like Peter." Would've been great if we'd known what Peter was like other than that one time we saw him pick on his little brother.
Acting? Asa Butterfield was really good. His acting made the movie watchable. It's hard to believe a kid just accidentally blew up a planet and is yelling at a space perv in the middle of an asteroid hollowed out by giant space-faring ants and yet when Asa does it... he sells it. I'm not saying I wept or sobbed, or rent my clothes and put ashes in my hair as I mourned along with him. Let's be serious, he's no Meatloaf in Rocky Horror Picture Show! But yeah... I felt it in my guts from Ender's acting... well done to Asa Butterfield. He's a really good actor. I first saw him in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and he was really good in that too. Now, someone feed the kid!
How long had it been since the invasion until we see them in the movie? I can't find a good answer decades at least. And evidently the kids are so patriotic that the scene of Mazer Rackam ramming his ship into the ship to blow up the giant thing and thereby magically end the war that we've seen 3 times already in the movie causes them to burst into cheers and screams of appreciation. Hell, I was bored with it by the time they showed it again. When Ender watches it with Mazer Rackam he sees something nobody else sees... in the reflection of the goggles of the video in a still photo he is able to determine how the bugs are moving and from that he decides that THIS ship, is important... nevermind that without the HUD or freeze frame or shot from the reflection of the pilot's goggles (I'm not making this shit up. That's what they showed us in the movie and it's ridiculous to the point of being offensive.)... here's the thing, the ship that Mazer rams in a scene right out of Independance Day, almost shot for shot... it's FREAKING HUGE. It's easily 1000 times bigger than every other ship on screen. So, deciding to blow it up doesn't require pattern analysis or knowing the enemy so well you can think like them and love them. It's the biggest damned target on the screen.
Other actors worth commenting on: The boy who played Bonzo Madrid was perfect for the role. I wish it'd been written better for him. The director screwed it up. His being a comic cartoon in the movie was the director's fault, not the actor's. Harrison Ford didn't come across the way he intended to. I'm not sure if it was him or the director... but I felt like I needed a shower whenever I'd see him interact with Ender.
I went with people who hadn't read the book. They were my control group. A man, a teen-aged boy, and a pre-teen girl. All three of them enjoyed the movie. I think they were somewhat confused at parts that I knew from the book that hadn't been cleared up enough perhaps in the movie.
Would I recommend the movie? No. Because watching the movie would spoil the impact of the twist at the end of the book if a person hadn't read the book and if they had read the book then why go through the movie's awfulness? Other than Asa Butterfield's performance while being groped by Harrison Ford, only once on the shoulder that we know of. Maybe more on the director's cut. *shudder*