Friday, November 15, 2013

Ender's Game Review

I had both been dreading and looking forward to the day that Ender's Game was brought to the silver screen. This happens all the time to the general populace though. Most movies are based on books so no matter what, as the filmmaker you'll probably be ruffling some feathers. On one hand, I've always wanted to see Ender's Game as a movie. How would the battle arena look? Who would they cast as the main characters? Then, on the other hand I've wanted it never to happen, because how often is the movie better than the book? Don't get me wrong, it does happen, just not very often. See, the problem is that we will, for the most part, always like the book better because in our heads we have painted this pretty picture of what we think this world looks like. The author gives us some descriptions, but we are basically creating our own movie inside our heads, filling in details and visuals. When you see the movie, everything is done for you. You can't add to it. That frustrates people to no end because the movie didn't end up like it looked in their head. When we create the best possible picture in our head, how can any movie live up to it? So, I guess the real question is, how did this film adaptation hold up in comparison to the book?

Let me first go into a bit of background. I had my reading renaissance a little late in life. I read a little in school, though only what I had to read. I enjoyed Of Mice and Men and The Great Gatsby, but I never attempted to pick them back up years later. I didn't appreciate the power of literature. I don't think most students do. Books are presented as homework and that stifles many student's longing to dive into literature in their free time. I read comics and books full of fluff. It wasn't work, it was pleasure. It wasn't until I was halfway through college that I caught the reading bug, and it wasn't from a literature class or from a talk with a professor. It was from a co-worker that I had a lot of respect for and when he told me to branch out and try reading something worthwhile, I actually tried. I read Vonnegut, Huxley, Koestler, Heller, Herbert, and many more. I was gaining all new ideas and was enjoying myself. There was merit in reading after all! His first book that he recommended to me was Ender's Game. I had never really been into sci-fi, and I let him know that. He assured me that it wasn't anything like I've read before. I finally picked the book up and then couldn't put it down. I read it in probably three days, even bringing it to work with me and reading when I could. After I finished it, I went and read the rest of the series. Ender's Game quickly became my favorite book and I've since read it maybe three more times. Then, I heard they were coming out with movie version.

This is the part where I say that if you haven't read the book or seen the movie, then you should stop reading. I'm not doing a typical review where I tiptoe around plot points. No, I'm hitting all of them and comparing them to the novel. If you've done either and don't care about spoilers then read on. I've seen the movie version twice now and all I can say is that I was pleasantly surprised. I've been burned in the past by adaptations that weren't exactly up to par with the book (The Hunger Games, Watchmen, Dune, and many more), but this didn't leave me disappointed when I walked out of the theater. They hit all the main plot points of the book, while condensing it enough to keep the run time at a decent length. Ender's Game is a long book and would probably run around seven hours if it showed everything written. Did it leave anything out? Of course it did, but every adaptation does. Too much story can easily unhinge a movie. The actors were fantastic, which was something I was worried about. One of the cardinal rules when making a movie is to be ready for aggravation when using children. While the kids in the movie are a bit older, they still can cause problems. Luckily it looks like they picked a fine ensemble to make this movie work. Asa Butterfield was excellent as Ender, something that would have made or broke this movie, and the same goes for Harrison Ford playing Graff. The visuals were also superb, and the battle sequences were better than I'd thought they'd be. To keep this from being one big rambling mess (too late!), I'm going to try and tackle one topic at a time.

There were quite a few differences in the story, mostly subtractions. The whole sub-plot about Peter and Valentine becoming powerful political figures Locke and Demosthenes (now you know where I got the name!) was completely deleted. I can't help but agree with the filmmakers decision on this because it really wouldn't help the plot any. That whole part of the book was a bit silly in the first place. Peter and Valentine are just kids and they create these online personas who become political behemoths, eventually leading to Peter become the Hegemon (leader of the world). The whole thing was far-fetched, but then again so is the whole plot. Ender is only six at the beginning of the book, but seeing as that would look rather silly on the screen, they changed him to be around fourteen or fifteen(?). He is around that age when the book ends. Yes, Ender and the others are up there for a very long time. I was a little disappointed though that it seemed they kind of glossed over his siblings, because they are an important part of story as a whole. Valentine is Ender's only real emotional crutch throughout the series, and Peter is everything that Ender doesn't want to be but is in a lot of ways.

With that, I'm going to go into Ender's state of mind and actions throughout the movie. Ender, as a third, is an outcast. In this version of Earth, families are limited to having only two children, thus keeping the world from overpopulating. You can have a third child, but only in special circumstances. It's not really hit on that hard in the movie, but Ender is extremely different for being a third, and is taunted for it not only by classmates, but by his own brother. Peter is the oldest, about four years older than Ender, and he is a psychopath. Like, killing little animals for fun kind of psychopath. This doesn't serve him well for being selected by the Battle School, because we all know that if you want to adequately lead an army, you have to have all your marbles.  Also, he legitemately wants to kill Ender at the beginning of the book. It's not a passing thing like in the movie. While Peter is cruel, Valentine is the kind and compassionate one. Two years older than Ender, she also was not selected by the Battle School because of her emotional characteristics. Ender, however, is a combination of the two of them. He has compassion, but he is also incredibly brutal when he needs to be. In the movie, Ender uses the logic that if he annihilates his enemy, his enemy won't go after him ever again. It works, and that's what attracts the military. You don't really see the foreshadowing as much in the movie, but in almost every instance where Ender retaliates, he kills someone. Yep, you didn't really see that picture of him in the movie too well, but by the time Ender goes to Command School, he's killed two people and injured another. Remember in the movie when Ender kicks the crap out of that bully? Yeah, we don't find out until later in the book, but he killed him. Bernard, the fellow Launchie that gives him crap, has his arm broken by Ender on the initial flight to Battle School. The only death/injury the movie doesn't gloss over is Bonzo's. Bonzo is comically short in the movie and has a short temper. In the book, he's described as a strikingly good looking boy from Spanish aristocracy. He's as much of a jerk in the book, but his Spanish honor is played on much more. His distorted sense of honor gets him killed when he attacks Ender in the shower. Like with the bully from Earth, Ender doesn't know until much later that Bonzo was dead. Ender didn't carry around as much emotional baggage in the movie. Sure he annihilated a whole species at the end while being lied to the whole movie, but before that he seems to be doing OK in the sanity department. No, things get a bit crazy in the book, and you can clearly see the stress and guilt affecting Ender throughout the book.

Ender's relationships with his fellow classmates differ from the book in a few ways. The biggest crime of all is the almost complete lack of relationship between Ender and Bean. Bean is every bit as smart as Ender is, and that leads to a clash of minds at the beginning of their relationship. It's only later that they become friends and together destroy the Formics. Bean is much more important than the movie lets on, but you'd have to read Ender's Shadow to learn that, so I won't reveal anything. Bean is one of the most interesting characters in the book but in the movie he's just another friend of Ender's. His attitude and aggressiveness is completely left out of the movie, but again, I guess they had enough stuff going on without adding Bean's side story. Ender and Petra's relationship is pretty much spot on. If you thought you saw romantic inclination in the movie, it wasn't on purpose. The director, Gavin Hood, said that it wasn't a romantic relationship, but one of mutual respect. I think that's one thing I really liked about the book was the complete lack of a love interest for Ender. The only person he really loves in the whole universe in the first book is his sister. I thought on the whole that they otherwise got his relationships with everyone spot on. Sure they could have done more with Alai, Graff, or Rackham, but they did enough to get the story moving along.

The Mind Game that Ender plays in the movie is much shorter than the one in the book. In the book he not only solves the Giant's Drink, but encounters a playground full of wolves that devour him time and time again. The real reason for the Mind Game is to introduce the Philotic connection between the Hive Queen and Ender. Ender, in the book, has such a strong connection to the game, that it draws the attention of the Hive Queen who knows that Ender is going to be tasked with destroying her race. Ender, of course, doesn't know until it's too late that the Formics, nicknamed Buggers in the book, were trying to protect themselves the whole time. Through the connection, Ender is able to find the location of the Hive Queen's egg located on the abandoned Bugger planet. No, a dying Hive Queen does not show up and dry a tear from Ender's face. That part was so weird! Why did they add that! I guess it's hard to show Ender speaking to an egg telepathically. Ender realizes that he must redeem himself for what he has done and decides to take the egg and find a new home for it. That's all we see of the ending in the movie. The ending of the book is much more involved. Peter has become Hegemon of the whole world, which causes Valentine to fear for Ender's safety. Now that Ender is the new Mazer Rackham of sorts, she's afraid that if he returns to Earth, he'll be used by every slimy politician and military man. She blackmails Peter into banishing Ender from Earth. Ender decides he wants to colonize the abandoned bugger world and takes Valentine with him. Graff is court-martialed for being a manipulative crazy man, but is found not guilty because his methods got results. Remember how at the end of the film, Graff tells Ender that he'll be remembered as a hero and Ender says that he'll instead be remembered as a murderer? Yeah, guess who made the latter happen? Ender does. To further atone for his sins, he decides to write a book about what really happened at the Battle and Command School. The book, titled The Hive Queen, paints Ender to be a villain, and he gets his wish, he is remembered not as the hero of the last Bugger War, but as Ender the Xenocide. This sort of thing takes time, and luckily for Ender, he has all the time in the world. Something else they didn't mention in the movie was the real reason Mazer Rackham was still alive after all those years. He traveled through space for much of the time, which caused him not to age very much, but everyone else to age a great deal. Time works different in space! Ender and Valentine use the same trick to try and find a new planet for the Hive Queen. They are only in their thirties in the second book, Speaker for the Dead, yet everyone they knew during Ender's Game has been dead for thousands of years.

As you can clearly see from my ramblings, there is much more to the story than the movie lets on, but the movie is great in it's own right. It's like Ender's Game abridged. If I haven't ruined it for you, read the book. I've never heard anyone hating it after I've recommended it to them. After that, read the rest of the series! The next three books are completely different from the first, but are good in their own right. In fact, Speaker for the Dead could is comparable in my book to Ender's Game. Yes, it's that good. If I were to give this movie a grade, I'd give it a solid B. Not a terrible movie by any right, but it was missing some key things that would have made it a perfect transition. Again, it's hard to adequately judge a movie that's based off your favorite book. Will there be a sequel? Perhaps, but it won't be Speaker for the Dead. Trust me. Anyway, hope you enjoyed the ravings of a lunatic once again.


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