This weekend David and I got to see Ender’s Game and for me it was not bad, but it was not particularly good either. Now, I did finish reading the book for the second time probably about an hour before I actually watched the movie. This means that the book was extremely fresh on my mind and I had recently gone through the emotional roller-coaster that the book takes you on. So I openly admit that my opinion might be tainted. I do think there are decisions that they made that worked due to the fact that they had a limited amount of time. The biggest thing is that the movie felt sort of meh to me, but visually it was gorgeous so you really cannot go wrong there.
The other part of re-reading the book right before the movie is it reminded me how much I love the book. There are so many little intricacies that cannot be translated to a movie. Most of the book is told through Ender’s internal thoughts, which is really difficult to show in a movie format. At the same time that is the best parts of the books, thus making it almost impossible for that movie to actually exist. When I originally heard about Ender’s Game becoming a movie I was excited, but I did have the question about how they were really going to pull it off. So there are really too many things that I could talk about for how they translated the book to the movie, so I am going to list a few items they did well and a few items that I felt was missing. (Extreme Spoilers for Ender’s Game after the jump – which is to say, I am treating things as though you know what I am talking about.)
Passage of Time
So, I understand it is really hard to show the passage of time in a movie, but the entire movie felt like it took like two weeks. It is supposed to at least take a month because we see the countdown clock of 28 days in Colonel Graff’s office. There was at least transitions between the scenes, but I don’t know why they couldn’t include a simple montage to actually show the passage of time – instead of telling us that timed passed. For example, they could have done a montage of all the battles Ender won instead of just showing his army going up in ranks and then showing the last battle. I mean they could have made it feel like a year has passed at least from the launchy to command school. What was the point of school if in a month he was ready to go command an entire fleet? It just does not seem like he went through that much to get where he was going, which loses some of the hardship of what was happening to him.
So obviously the movie cannot have Ender go from 6 to 12 years old because finding the actors able to do the progression and still look like the same person would be way too difficult. As well as finding an actor who looks 6 and can portray the complexities of Ender would be very difficult. So I thought that them speeding up the story worked and in some ways because they sped up the story there were certain things they could not include. In the book Ender is broken down and tired over years of isolation and battle. If you cannot show the full time progression of Ender’s journey, it is really difficult to have him be fed up after it really has not been that long. I guess a way to look at it is what would Ender be like if he only spent a year in this experience from start to finish and I think what the movie showed was accurate for that interpretation.
So one of the biggest things that I felt was missing or even totally disregarded is really understanding Ender’s mind. There are a few times that other students come up with ideas, but Ender is the one who sees how they could actually be useful. The logic and tactics that he comes up with is better than most adults. He thinks quickly and can look at a situation and assess the outcome. He never does things like anyone else does. Other people try to imitate him, but they do not understand the reason behind the strategy. Ender’s mind could see things that very few others could. I know that is hard to show in a movie, but there were so many times that the ideas that should have belonged to Ender alone seemed to come from other characters. I had a big problem with this because it diminishes the true importance of Ender. Part of the thought is that no one else thinks like him, but in the movie they have plenty of other people think of things just as good – some of which were Ender’s idea in the book.
Now the thing that they did great with is the visuals of the movie. They recreated battle school for me and the visuals for the battle room where they have the armies fight was brilliant. They got the visuals down for the world in which Ender lived. It was so great to see the little bit of the battles that we did get to see. The null gravity was well done too, seeing them moving around and pushing off of things to get bounced around was exactly how it is described in the book. This is the one area where I felt like the movie added something that the book could not portray. Having something described to you versus seeing it are very different experiences. The visuals of the Formic’s / Bugger’s home world were well done too. Showing the overpopulation and the structures that they built to make them a reality – as opposed to the boogie man who is just talked about.
Show Me Don’t Tell Me
So with all the good visuals, I think one of the issues that I had was feeling a bit like show me don’t tell me. I do not know if they were not creatively thinking about certain things or the book was simply too much to translate, but I felt like a lot of things come across as telling me how or why something is, as opposed to showing me and letting the revelation come on its own. There are so many things that we can do visually and yet a lot of the movie felt like here we are showing you something and now let us do the obvious description because we need to tell you what is happening. Some of the conversations seem put in because they wanted to tell the audience what is happening instead of showing them.
I want to take a second to say the actors I felt did a pretty good job. Ben Kingsley was my personal favorite as Mazer Rackham because he is supposed to be a brilliant man and he is supposed to be a survivor. Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff was also reasonably well done because Graff is supposed to be kind of a hard ass. I also did think Asa Butterfield did a decent job as Ender, but I do not think the story gave him enough to go on. I think Viola Davis did a good job as Major Anderson, but I wish they had kept her more as the character in the book. They made her soft and wanting to reveal the truth. There are a couple of places where they seemed to have toughened up a male character and softened a female character, but that is a whole other discussion. What the actors did to bring these characters to life I thought was well done.
Good Not Deep
I am realizing that the movie tells the basic series of events that put together the story. There is the beginning, middle, and end all laid out for us to see and follow in progression. The story is a good story full of triumph and some moral questioning. The basic story misses the depth of what is truly happening. The story is a journey in order to ask the big questions, one of which being what is the cost? The cost of victory is a huge part of Ender’s Game the book. The adults are constantly questioning and second guessing what will happen to Ender, but they all agree that it has to be done. Colonel Graff accepts being court-martialed for the death of Bonzo, potentially ruining his career. Mazer Rackham gives up everything, all of his loved ones so that he could be around to train Ender. We constantly see Ender being pushed to the edge and part of the problem is that he does not understand the price that he is paying for playing these games.
The smartest kid in the world and he still does not know that he is being tricked. Ender was constantly fighting against the adults, but the only way for him to win would have been to not play and that was not in his nature. In the book he came out of the last battle a different person. The adults had killed the Ender Wiggin who had spent all those years in battle school. At first he lays back down to die, but eventually he is able to find renewed purpose. In the movie he is angry about what happens, but his response was that of a child who is angry at being tricked. In the book Ender is broken and shattered because he had been beaten and this was the last straw.
I have so many more things that I could talk about, but that would just take too long. If you have not read the book the movie will probably be a great time, but I would recommend reading the book. If you have read the book, the reaction is mixed so go at your own peril. I think it depends on what you like about the book. If you enjoy the space battles and battle room of the battle school than you probably will not mind the changes to the movie as much. If the psychological questions posed by the book are what you love than the movie might not be for you.
My final note is that I hate what they did to Petra. I love Petra in the book and personally she was way too soft in the movie. This girl is hard core and the best sharp shooter out of anyone. She dishes it out like she can take it and while they do not create a romance between Petra and Ender they seem to almost hinting at a potential for romance. In the book Petra is calling him names and becomes a Commander of an army in her own right. She is a woman who is living and thriving in what is considered a man’s world. I just feel like the movie really wanted to “feminize” any of the female characters. I might be wrong, but it just felt like all the females where the ones showing sympathy to Ender and worrying about him. Do not even get me started on the part where Petra gets hurt and Ender goes to rescue her. That never happened in the book, partly because she was better than that. Sorry for the rant, but Petra is a decent female character and I feel like they did not really know what to do with her.