Depending on which Ender’s Game superfan you ask, Gavin Hood’s recently-released film adaptation is either an admirable attempt that hit most of the important plot points, or an abomination of storytelling that gutted one of the greatest sci-fi tales ever written.
Some say it’s good, some say it’s bad, but nobody says it’s great.
Throughout the film, Ender plays a mind game on his space-iPad. It’s cool enough and plays a clever role in the plot, but he doesn’t actually play it, he just watches it on the screen. As a gamer, I felt like Russians must feel watching Sean Connery butcher their language in The Hunt for Red October. That’s not how games work! He needs to play it! I want to play it myself! Hell, I wanted to play the whole damn movie, I would have cared about it more.
And there you have the inherent problem with making an Ender’s Game film: it should have been a game itself. Real-time strategy, RPG, adventure, puzzle; the interactivity allows deeper dramatic possibilities than film as a medium allows. Imagine going to battle school yourself, analyzing Formic attack patterns, or shaping your own dialogue to earn squad loyalty and working to keep it, instead of just watching Ender do it all. It’s hard to get engaged with Ender’s story when he’s not even engaged with his own game.
It’s time we take video games seriously as a dramatic medium, because sometimes film just doesn’t cut it. We’ve seen huge strides in sophistication and storytelling, from Mass Effect to the Arkham series to Braid. Those who say the novel was inherently unadaptable are wrong, it just found the wrong outlet. All of the time and talent that went into this adaptation of Ender’s Game should have gone into a great video game instead of a mediocre movie.