Friday, November 1, 2013

Friday Fun... An Ender's Game Movie Review from a Book Fanatic

Here is an obscenely long post, but it is what it is... I just have too much to say! 

Before I delve too much into a discussion of Ender's Game: The Movie I think it is important to understand my relationship with the book. I first read this when I was about 13 (right about when they started work on this movie, apparently). I was hooked as soon as I opened the cover, and not just in a "I want to finish this great book" way, but in the "this book changed me a little bit" way.

More than anything, the character of Ender resonated with me. My own stupid teenage angst crap led me to believe fervently that we were kindred spirits. I had this ring made and wore it (despite it turning my finger green) as a reminder to stay strong when life got tough... or what teenage me thought was tough at least.

Around this time I also began a tradition that I have continued o this day: once a year, I read Ender's Game. My insights into the book, my feelings towards the characters, and my perspective on the morality of the story have subtly shifted throughout my years, but one thing has remained constant-- this book is part of who I am.

And thus last night, after almost 20 years of waiting for THE MOVIE, I found myself in a theater and nervous as hell that they were about to screw up my baby.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, you can glean most of this through the previews. Fifty years ago, Earth was attacked by an alien race called the Formics, and so to prevent mankind's annihilation, the military begins drafting and training children with the hopes that they will be the military geniuses that save us all. As the pending war nears, all hope comes to rest on Andrew "Ender" Wiggin. Ender is taken to Battle School to train with other kids and learn to save the world.

In terms of the how the movie did... I will give it a solid B+, or a "meh... I didn't hate it." And believe it or not, given how close I am to this, NOT hating it is high praise.

Here's what I liked:
The stayed pretty close to the story for the most part. Key things were removed due to timing, but Asa Butterfield as Ender was delightfully fantastic.They also kept one of my all-time most favorite opening lines from any book ever there.

Despite loving Viola Davis, I expected to hate her as Anderson simply because Anderson was a relatively tiny role in the story and they seemed to be just looking for places to add a woman. I actually loved the change. Given the film format, they needed a tool to continually express the moral questions about what the military is doing to these kids. This comes across loud and clear in the narrative of the book, and the change in Anderson's role was actually a deft move to keep this alive in the film.

Ultimately, though, the real strength of this movie is its beauty. The visual effects, score, and overall tone are spot on.

Here is what I didn't like:
The timing. At just over an hour and forty-five minutes, this film was short, evinced by taking a book that spans nearly a decade and smashing into the period of a few weeks. What you lose is an understanding of the sheer magnitude of what happens to these kids at Battle School. Showing two or three key battles was not sufficient. Even some kind of goofy battle montage could have built up this aspect much better.

The characterization. And this KILLS me. Again, they could have had another 20 minutes to play with developing some characters here. Harrison Ford's Graff is both ineptly played and poorly written. Of Ender's toon leaders, only Petra has much happening. The friendship between Alai and Ender, one of the most poignant and critical elements of the book, is basically gone. Only Ender is really developed at all, and this is still fairly shallow. Trust me-- if you saw the movie and liked Ender, read the book and you will love him.

The softening. One of the key elements of this book is its brutality. It is s violent and intense story. The kids call the aliens bad words, and they fight each other, and sometimes they kill each other. The movie made me think of a line from the George of the Jungle movie that goes something like "don't worry, nobody dies in this movie, they just get really big boo boos." I understand having to remove some of the more vicious incidents from the film-- with such a short time to tell a story, it would be hard to portray some of what Ender does without making him look like a sadist. But in this film, even the Formics aren't really that bad. While subsequent books support this, to actually tell Ender's Game correctly and to make the ethical dilemmas really resonate, you need an enemy and you need some violence and both of those things are piddled down to the point of losing their power in the story.

Here is the delicious irony:
With the softening of the film, there is something of a message of tolerance against the alien species that comes through at the end. Seeing this from a writer that so vehemently petitions against tolerance for his own species (Card is vocally opposed to gay rights) smacks of seeing Ted Cruz read Green Eggs and Ham and not realizing that maybe he should give the whole "open mind" thing a try.

All in all, see it... but then read the book because it is 1,000 times better.


  1. It is ironic how Card's personal views seem to clash with the ethical themes of so many of his novels.

  2. I agree with your assessment completely. What did you think of the way they portrayed Petra?