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Page to Screen: Ender's Game

Updated on July 24, 2015


The adaptation of Ender's Game is most definitely an interesting one. Large pieces of the story are missing, and many scenes are changed yet many consider it to be a strong adaptation of its original source material due to the proper cuts and compression of the original story plot. I will go on to discuss the changes and why I believe they are strong or comparatively weak in recreating the original story, as well as the reasons as to why the writers decided to make such a change.

Movie Poster for Ender's Game


The Film

Directed and written by Gavin Hood and released in 2013, Ender's Game was a movie that the author claimed could not be made. It didn't stop Orson Scott Card from trying though, having actors in mind since 1998, at least. The film deviates from the film in both minor and significant areas yet roughly tells the same story. Asa Butterfield plays the titular role and features performances by Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfield, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin, and so forth.

An Ender's Game movie was stuck in development hell for quite some time. Furthermore, a different kind of controversy followed the movie due to the author's beliefs regarding same-sex marriage, which ultimately limited the influence the author had on this adaptation due to outside pressure from the media. Due to a rather disappointing box office reception, the potential of a sequel (following the short stories and novels) is unlikely.

The Book

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game (published in 1985) is a widely acclaimed (and controversial) science-fiction military novel following a gifted young boy of the age of six into a very cruel, demanding world that's crafted to breed children his age into the best military commanders in human history, all in order to strike back and defend themselves from a sentient insectoid race that's invaded them twice before. It's an incredibly detailed book that covers a large gathering of subjects and has evoked a great deal of controversy over the morality of war and those that make decisions in it.

The book spawned a good number of sequels and created a literary universe as well as being nominated for numerous awards. It became required reading for many different grade schools as well.

Book Cover for Ender's Game


The Changes

There were some big, big changes and some grand omissions. To be fair, a lot that is omitted would not have translated well into a single entry movie; perhaps if Ender's Game the movie was split into two different films a lot more detail (and integral plot points) could have been included.

Ender Himself
I'm not saying the film version of the main character didn't do a good job at all, more so it's that I have a problem with the character of Ender in general. The things Ender does at 6, at 11, and everything in between is ridiculous for a young adult. If I think to forget how old he is in either version, the rest of the story is quite enjoyable and at times thought-provoking. However, as it's impossible to forget his age in the film (and the book practically shoves his age down your throat whenever possible), it damages the rest of the story. Other than that, Asa Butterfield did a decent job, although I'm not sure how hard it is to portray a cold individual with little outward emotion who's deep in thought.

The Civil War
Absolutely completely omitted from the film. That might also be good, because it doesn't focus on the other Wiggins children (who do similarly unbelievable tasks as Ender does) and it's not really that imperative to what Ender goes through on his own journey. I actually think this is a good omission given the time frame.

Rat and Dragon Teams
Much of this information is completely changed. This might also have been done simply to cut back on time, although the character Bean simply seems to appear out of thin air during the film. I'd say more on it, but it's nearly night and day different from the book for the parts they included, and what can one say about parts that are missing?

The New Colony
Probably tied in with the fact that there is no looming Civil War on Earth but unlike other cut content, this can have been used to much greater effect, further fleshing out the fact that the buggers (seen only in the film until the last five minutes as an invading alien species) had an intellectual depth more or less equal to our own. Nonetheless, if enough focus was given to Eros to show that the buggers are in some way sentient (perhaps living conditions or life support structures predating human 'settlement'), it would have gone a long way.

Nature of the Game
I'm not speaking of the actual game with freezing lights and gate-goals (which I believe was very, very well adapted) but the interactive game that Ender plays on his own. While the book is somewhat unclear on how the buggers affect the game (in fact, no one seems to know how the computer works, even the computer who's apparently self aware) and doesn't explain the Game's origin, the film lightly touches on it in a semi-confusing scene to someone who hasn't read the book.I guess I'm more frustrated that the whole nature of the game was never really disclosed and I'm a bit lost at the foresight of the buggers predicting their own demise, being able to contact someone through an electronic interface of an enigmatic work, and why they contacted Ender instead of others. Maybe I'm missing something, and if you have answers to it, please let me know.

I'm sorry, but while I watched the film first, I couldn't take Moises Arias (the actor) seriously. At 5'1'', it's impossible to consider him threatening, even if he is a bit bulky. It's not really his fault but his physical presentation cripples his acting ability. Once the film finished, he became this hateful midget in my mind.

The presentation is off from the novel as well. Bonzo is clearly said to be at least a good deal taller than Ender (as the book many times refers to Bonzo looking down at Ender). Also, while the movie portrays Bonzo as nothing much more than an evil child, Bonzo in the book is proud but holds to his honor, something that ends up getting him killed in the showers. Bonzo isn't intrinsically evil, only incredibly prideful which is by no means unattributed to the ruthless nature of the Battle Academy.

Movie Trailer for Ender's Game

Closing Thoughts

Admittedly, I watched the film first and it was obviously based on a book (or at least hopefully so) due to the fact that the plot suddenly throws itself forward after a few seconds of learning a side character's name. There feels like there's chunks of story details missing and we're more on a prototype of a ride than anything else. But, having said that, the film is actually a very strong adaptation given the subject matter. Card's book is not light on details and while chunks of his story are absent in this adaptation, it very faithfully recreates the story with much of the tale intact (down to quotes from the book) and compresses what it needs to re-tell the story.

I personally can't say that I would name either work among my favorites in their own categories, but I understand the story's merits and congratulate the film makers for handling the story the way they did.

Book vs Movie

For those of you who read the book and watched the movie, what did you prefer?

See results

Further Reading

You can read more Page to Screen adaptation commentaries if you click here.


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