Col. Graff: You'll be the finest commander that we've ever trained. Ender: So I'm not the first. Mazer Rackham: No. But you will be the last.
Ender's Game is a film adaptation of Orson Scott Card's most famous book. After years in Development Hell, it was finally green-lit and slated for a November 2013 release. Gavin Hood is both its screenwriter and director, and the film has an All-Star Cast including Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, ViolaDavis, and Abigail Breslin.In the near future, Earth is attacked by a hostile alien species called the Formics, whose invasion kills millions of humans. They were finally repelled, though, when the brilliant pilot Mazer Rackham identified their weakness and crippled their fleet. The Formics lost the war and retreated to their homeworld, preparing another fleet. In the meantime, humanity too began to prepare their own military to ensure another Formic assault would not occur.Gifted children are recruited in hopes of training them to become admirals for humanity's fleet. They are trained at the orbital station Battle School, overseen by Colonel Hyrum Graff. Graff has his eyes on one boy in particular, Ender Wiggin, who he's certain has the potential to lead their entire fleet. But Ender's training will not be limited to his classes and the school's war games. He's going to be manipulated and tested to his breaking point at all times, to ensure that the human species will survive.The first trailer for the film can be seen here.
This film provides examples of:
Absent Aliens: A variant - aside from the starships, none of the Formics are seen up close. The only glimpse of what they look like is a brief scene of Ender reading an anatomy chart of them. Except at the end of the movie, when Ender meets the queen face-to-face.
Adaptation Distillation: Many of the minor battles in Battle School are not shown to save for time, but are still implied to have happened.
Bernard in the book was merely a bully to Ender, and only cooperated with him when they had the mutual friend Alai. In the film, Bernard and Ender forgive each other and he even becomes part of Dragon Army and Ender's jeesh.
Major Anderson in the book often objected to Col. Graff, but was more concerned with preserving the integrity of the Battle Room rules and Battle School society than about Ender's wellbeing. To contrast better with Graff, Anderson in the film has more moral concerns, even quitting after Bonzo is killed, whereas the book Anderson became the new principal of the Battle School.
Downplayed with Peter Wiggin. His status as an Anti-Villain is never shown in the film, but only because the subplot featuring him is not included in the theatrical cut of the film. This also owes itself to the fact that Peter gets very little screen time.
However, Graff suffers badly from this. Since the movie changes the back story so that the Formics only attacked once, his motivation becomes much flimsier. Combine that with the fact that he never expresses regret for his actions or empathy for Ender as he does in the book, and he comes off as a warmongering Jerkass, if not an outright villain.
Alien Invasion: The backstory of the film is the Formics' attack on Earth. The humans are attempting to invert this trope by attacking the Formics' home planet.
Badass Boast: After taking out the bully in the beginning, Ender dissuades his friends from taking revenge by pointing out just how brutally he'll fight back if they try it.
Beware the Nice Ones: Ender's generally a nice guy, but it's a bad idea to get on his bad side. He knows exactly how to wreck people if he needs to.
Big Brother Is Watching: Recruits get tagged with a transmitter linked to their senses, allowing the overseers to hear and see everything they do. The tag is removed upon promotion.
Blackmail Is Such an Ugly Word: After Bonzo tries to dictate what Ender can do in his free time, Ender threatens to have him iced if he tries it again. Then he offers Bonzo a way out that will make him look like the one in charge even though he's being forced to play along.
Broken Pedestal: Rackham's and Graff's unapologetic stance about the Formics' destruction ruins whatever respect Ender held for them.
Bug War: The Formic-Human conflict is a classic example.
Chekhov's Armory: Everything Ender learns or experiences during his training comes into play in the final act.
Child Soldier: All of the "launchies" are technically this, something that disturbs Anderson to no end.
Combat Pragmatist: In the beginning, Ender gets into a fight with a classmate. After goading him into a one-on-one fight, he grabs the nearest blunt object to knock the bully down then kicks him until he stays there. Against Bonzo, who does this while Ender's in the shower, he turns the water up to full heat then sprays it in Bonzo's face, and also rubs on some fresh soap so that Bonzo can't get a hold of him.
Compressed Adaptation: The film's events take place in less than a year, as opposed to the five years of the book (and another five for the epilogue). See "Pragmatic Adaptation" below for a full list of what got cut out.
This is Ender's entire M.O. His feeling is that he wants to win not just this fight, but all the other ones to follow. Amongst other things, he invokes Kick Them While They Are Down as a form of psychological warfare.
Ender believes that devastating the Formic homeworld and eradicating their race in response to their invasion of Earth was this. This makes sense given the context of how he dealt with his bullies, whom he never intended to kill, only drive off. Note his reaction to his and Bonzo's fight.
Drill Sergeant Nasty: Sgt. Dap is a textbook example. He becomes much less severe when Ender gets promoted.
Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Played with. The Formic homeworld is not literally blown to pieces, but gradually disintegrates, while the surface that has not yet melted becomes a burning wasteland from the igniting of the atmosphere.
Exact Words: When recruiting Ender, Graff tells him that his thoughts won't be monitored and his privacy rights restored. When Ender later complains about the Battle School blocking his emails, Graff retorts that he said his thoughts would be private, but his emails aren't.
Eye Scream: In the Mind Game, the rat that Ender controls kills a giant by chewing out his eye and then possibly his brain.
Foreshadowing: Ender's first scene has him playing a starfighter dogfight video game against Stilson, which he wins by tricking Stilson's ship into crashing into an asteroid. Not only does this foreshadow Ender's tactic of using the environment to his advantage, but it also point to his fistfight against Stilson later when he accuses Ender of cheating because he didn't actually destroy Stilson's fighter personally. And, most obviously, Ender will end up commanding real starships soon.
Major Anderson, a male character in the novel, is played by Viola Davis.
Card planned for Graff to be gender-flipped when he was trying to adapt Ender's Game himself; when Hood took over, he cast Harrison Ford instead.
Glad I Thought of It: Invoked several times by Ender. Knowing that Bonzo values looking good in front of his army, he deliberately allows people to assume that his own smart ideas were really Bonzo's. Of course, Bonzo himself knows that he didn't think of those ideas, so the knowledge that Ender is the real genius fills him with seething jealousy.
Hive Mind: What the Formics have, which makes their fleets all the more coordinated and quick to react.
Hoist by His Own Petard: During class, Benard transmits a message to the other students' consoles mocking Alai's vomit incident. Ender then covertly sends a message mocking Benard's intelligence. When Benard blurts this out, the teacher quips that he shouldn't insult people if he can't take it in turn.
Hormone-Addled Teenager: Invoked when Sgt. Dap threatens to personally neuter any launchie caught in the area reserved for the opposite sex. Seems to have worked, since nothing remotely naughty happens on screen for the duration of the movie.
Humans Are White: Averted like hell. Both child and adult characters are quite racially and ethnically diverse, including Black, Arab, Indian, Hispanic, Maori, etc.
Human Shield: This is a favored tactic of Ender's in the battle sphere, on account of the fact that the weapons don't actually cause any harm, instead merely triggering the suit to paralyze the wearer. It thus doesn't matter how many times someone gets shot, as long as the one they're protecting is fine.
Hypocritical Humor: When hearing Ender's name aboard the shuttle, Bean taunts him for it. When asked his own name, though, he admits "Bean" isn't exactly something to brag about.
I Did What I Had to Do: Graff insists that lying to Ender, exploiting his talents, and exterminating an alien species were necessary to secure the future of the human race.
I'll Kill You!: Bonzo threatens Ender with this after Ender has shown him up a couple times.
I Know Mortal Kombat: In the film's universe, mastering a skill in a game is directly linked to mastering it in real life, and the entire premise dwells upon this principle. Could well be The Movie of the trope.
Improbable Age: Becoming a Commander of the fleet at the tender age of 10? Seems about right.
Semi-justified in the movie, where it's stated that a) the fleets ready to destroy the Formics are almost at the Formic homeworld, b) Ender has been covertly scouted for years for exactly this sort of thing (plus, his psychology enables him to be a near-perfect commander), and c) children are noted as being better at inputting and processing data.
Indy Ploy: Exploited by the fleet command, who pick Ender specifically for his ability to improvise and think outside the box.
Insectoid Aliens: The Formics. The name by which they are referred to is derived from the Latin word for ant.
Instant-Win Condition: In the battle sphere, if a player passes through the enemy gate without having being hit prior, their team wins regardless of score.
Jerkass: Ender's brother Peter, Bernard (though he later becomes friendly to Ender) and Bonzo.
Last of His Kind: The Formic Queen and her larva seem to be the only examples of the species left in existence after the destruction of their homeworld.
Lighter and Softer: Both of Ender's show-downs with bullies are softened. Although Ender sends one boy to the hospital and breaks the other boy's neck, it's not certain whether or not they survived, as Ender doesn't believe Graff's assurances that they'll recover. In the book, both boys die thanks to Ender stamping their nose into their brain, although again Ender is never told of this until after the war.
Motivational Lie: Ender's superiors lie to him about the nature of his final mission so that he wouldn't endure the psychological pressure of risking real lives and hesitate about destroying an entire planet full of sentient beings.
Multinational Team: Ender's command staff, as is appropriate for an organization called the "International Fleet" that is in charge of saving the whole planet, has kids from multiple ethnicities: African-colored-Dutch-raised Dink, Arab Alai, Greek-ish Bean, Armenian Petra, and plain-white Bernard (French in the book, American in the film). However, we're still stuck with a White Male Lead, and it's also interesting that every jeesh member from East Asia (the Japanese Shen, Chinese Hot Soup and Filipino Fly Molo) and South America (Dumper) was cut, along with three more white guys (Australian Carn Carby, Russian Vlad and British Crazy Tom).
Never Trust a Trailer: Ender shouting "NOW!" is often cut to seem as though it's from the final battle. It's actually from an earlier battle in an ice field.
No Hugging, No Kissing: There isn't a barest hint of romance between Ender and Petra, despite the trailers seeming to hint at it. There are enough scenes featuring the two by themselves for there to be some Ship Tease, though.
Non-Specifically Foreign: Ender's father is established as an immigrant, and speaks with an indecipherable accent, but his origin is left unexplained in the film. The book explains that he's Polish.
Not So Different: Obvious parallels are drawn between Formics' swarms controlled by Queens and human remote-controlled space drones. Also, Graff says that both human and Formic populations have become unsustainable, and it is heavily implied that Formics are driven by the same concern for the survival of their species as humans are.
Not Using the Z Word: A variant. In the book, the aliens are rarely addressed as Formics and are more commonly known by the derogatory term used against them - "Buggers". In the film, the Formics are always addressed by their name, and are never addressed as "Buggers". This may be to avoid coming across as profane by British standards.
Older Than He Looks: Asa Butterfield, age 14-15 at the time of filming, looks barely 11, perfect for the part of Ender who is supposed to be one of the youngest kids in the program.
Oh Crap: Said word for word by Bernard during the final battle, when seeing that their shot of the Dr. Device only obliterated part of the fleet. The rest of the Formic fleet has just arrived, and is thousands of times more massive than the fleet they just fought.
Poor Communication Kills: Played straight twice with both major factions. The formics have no comprehension that each human is an individual mind until after they've slaughtered a few million people, while humanity has no knowledge the formics have no intention of starting another war and feel an all-out attack is a justified reprisal. Each side is horribly misinformed, and its this lack of understanding which drives the tragedy forward.
Population Control: Due to overpopulation, families are allowed a maximum of two children. Ender is a government-approved exception, as the IF had considered recruiting his siblings but wanted someone with a personality balance between the two. Despite his case being legal, he still receives prejudice from other kids for being a "Third".
Pragmatic Adaptation: Writer/director Gavin Hood cut almost everything that doesn't directly involve Ender to avoid diluting the effect of his story in the limited space of a two-hour movie. The result is that several characters who are important in the book have their roles dramatically reduced or simplified.
The book opens with Ender six years old, and he is 11 when he fights the Final Battle (and 15 counting the epilogue chapters!). For the film, Ender and his jeesh are 10, and played by teenagers. And all the casual nudity in the book is cut out to ensure a lower than R rating.
Ender's time in Rat and Phoenix Army is cut. Dink Meeker is also now a part of Salamander Army instead of Rat.
Bonzo's objections to Ender's free time training is that he's practicing with Petra. In the book, it's because he's practicing with his former Launchies despite now being in an army.
Dragon Army's training is cut and only one battle is shown, utilizing elements from several of the book's battles. Its members also include several former teammates of Ender, when in the book he didn't know any of his new soldiers, almost all of whom were Launchies.
Mazer and Graff's motives are better explained in the novel as well as why they feel the Formics are such a danger, having some basic understanding of their hive society. To paraphrase, "Don't apologize for them Ender, in the last war they killed millions of thinking, feelings individuals, while we only killed one of them."
Valentine and Peter's subplot where they become internet demagogues is completely cut, since it adds nothing to Ender's story, isn't truly necessary except as set-up for the Shadow sequels (and so could be retconned in if those sequels are made), and it'd seem unbelievable today that two "bloggers" could affect world politics so powerfully.
In the book, Ender leads his jeesh at the IF's asteroid base Eros, and after the war visits a former Formic colony where he finds a replica of the Mind Game's landscape. In the film, his base is on the former colony and the replicated game landscape is made to look like natural formations, likely so the IF wouldn't notice the resemblance.
The timeline of the war with the Formics is simplified. In the book there were two invasions, with "The Third Invasion" being humanity themselves assaulting the Formics' colonies. In the film there was only one invasion and the Formics lack colonies, instead battling with the IF fleet within their own system.
Ramming Always Works: The footage repeatedly shown of Mazer Rackham's victory ends with ramming his fighter plane into a Formic starship. This annoys Ender because he's sure there's got to be more to Rackham's victory than that. He's right. Rackham did only destroy one ship, but it was the ship he identified as the one carrying their queen. He also ejected and is still alive.
Reality Ensues: Winning the final test elicits a positive response from Ender and his companions. Realizing that they blew up a real planet and brought a species to extinction horrifies them.
Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Graff, running out of time to pick a candidate for command, pits Ender's recently-formed Dragon Army team (ranked third) against the top two teams at once, on top of letting the opposing teams deploy before he's ever arrived. Ender takes it in stride.
After Bonzo is devastatingly injured by Ender, Major Anderson resigns, unable to tolerate Graff's extreme methods any longer.
Ender himself too quits after that event. Graff uses Valentine to persuade him to come back.
Sequel Hook: Ender flying off into deep space with the last Formic queen.
Shock and Awe: The Formics' point defense weapons resemble electricity.
Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Ender's older brother Peter, a rather important character, is missing from the trailer (and only got one scene in the movie). Bean, major enough to get his own side-series, appears for only a few seconds in which his face isn't even shown.
Sociopathic Hero/Sociopathic Soldier: Graff is less concerned with the well-being of his cadets than making sure that the human race survives against the Formics. Best expressed in this exchange:
Anderson: What will be left of the boy?
Graff: What does it matter if there's nothing left at all?
This Ain't Rocket Surgery: Played with; a teacher admonishes Ender's class because, aside from him and two others, they all failed a planetary slingshot quiz that is basic rocket science and thus should have been easy for them.
Mazer Rackham still being alive was kept secret until the last third of the book, but Ben Kingsley's participation is fully advertised. This is mitigated by Rackham being The Faceless up until his proper introduction, and never being addressed by his name in any of the trailers.
If you've read the book, you know that the planet being destroyed is the Formic's homeworld. Without that knowledge, though, it may look like an obligatory part of any trailer.
One of the TV spots, "Truth" shows Ender discovering the Hive Queen's cocoon.
The War to End All Wars: Deconstructed. Ender believes that the best way to end a conflict is to prevent all future conflict, making sure that his opponent never comes back to hurt him again, without necessarily implying his physical destruction. The fleet command harness and exploit that feeling and manipulate him into unwittingly eradicating an entire alien race, using "the war to end all wars" as a justification.
What the Hell, Hero?: Ender lashes out at Graff and other commanders of the fleet for using Earth's safety as a pretext for exterminating an entire species.
Why Isn't It Attacking?: The Formics have not attacked since their assault on Earth. This appears to be because of humans quarantining their world, but in fact the Formics have willingly retreated. Unfortunately, humanity has no idea that they don't intend to attack again. And, while they are building up a huge navy, this is very easily explained by the fact that mankind has blockaded their only system, where they will eventually starve, ruin the biosphere or otherwise be outcompeted. When your back is to the wall, wouldn't you try to fight your way out?
Averted from a literal standpoint. Ender does call it "genocide" in dialogue—even though Card already came up with a more accurate term, "xenocide"note "genocide" would be for extermination of an entire race, "xenocide" for the extermination of a species, and "Speaker for the Dead" was title-dropped by Rackham in reference to his tattoos.