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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

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Movie Review: Ender's Game

If you read my review of the Ender's Game Saga, you probably got the impression that I loved the books. And I do, so when I sat down in the theater this weekend to see the adaptation of the first book in the series, I was very nervous. Ender's Game is a complex story filled with science fiction and raw human emotions. I enjoyed reading it so much, I didn't want the movie to ruin it.  My verdict: it was surprisingly better than I thought but not as good as I had hoped.

And before you continue, know that there will be spoilers, and you should probably only read the post if you've read the book and/or seen the movie.

Ender's Game, the movie, was an entertaining, futuristic tale of genius pre-teen Ender who must make his way through the hardships of battle school while training to become the commander of the International Fleet with the mission to destroy the alien race before it destroys Earth. With the help of his friends, he is able to overcome the challenges and rise to the occasion. It was epic and fun, emotional at times, and overall a decent sci-fi action film. 

But at times it felt rushed. There were beats and moments that didn't have time to breath. They didn't have time to deliver their full impact. Tense, emotional moments happened and then the story moved on, leaving them behind. When we left the theater, I asked my boyfriend what he thought, to which he replied, "Seems like it was based on a really good book." And that's because it is, but there's just too much of that great book to fit into one movie.

Books don't translate perfectly. There's no way that every scene, every character, every conversation can be put up on the big screen. And for Ender's Game a lot had to go. Basically, the movie hits the biggest and most important points in order to get the story across.

Yet we don't spend time on Earth with Ender's siblings Valentine and Peter, we don't spend years in battle school watching Ender's rise through the ranks from army to army, and we don't see each battle getting harder and harder the with odds stacked against him. And not only do movies often remove things, but they also add them. The filmmakers add so much to the relationship between Ender and his battle school classmate Petra, that it almost becomes a romance. Less, hand-holding and more shooting, is what I have to say about that.

But what I missed the most, what I think could have taken the movie to greatness as well as pleased the fans, is Ender's brokenness, his loneliness, and his desperation. In the book and movie, the teachers and administration of battle school single him out and isolate him from day one. He is set apart as the small, smart kid who is better than them. But in the movie, this stops. He slowly rallies a following through his leadership abilities, and he grows to have a group of friends who trust him completely. In the book, he isn't allowed this. He does earn a following of people who he would hope to have as friends, but he always keeps them at a distance. Through the administration's and his own actions, Ender never has anyone. He is alone. 
As he progresses onwards they stack the odds against him, change the rules, deprive him of sleep, and cut him off from all contact with anyone. Ender can barely stay awake, he stops eating, and his dreams are almost as troubling as his reality. By the time he reaches his "Graduation Battle" on the last day of command school, Ender is on the verge of a mental breakdown. And it is this state he is in, this level of brokenness, that allows him to be triumphant. When he sees the absolutely impossible task of destroying a home planet in front of him, he is so angry and so defeated he just thinks, fine, I'll win for you, but I don't care how. His victory is a big screw you. He turns their game into his.
And all of this is lost in the movie. Ender is troubled but not broken. He has his friends by his side to help him through. The movie is lacking the emotional journey that makes the book so powerful.

All of that being said, it is very difficult to have a dark depressing sci-fi movie and get adults to watch when it stars a child. And inversely, it is very difficult to have a movie star a child and get kids to watch it when it's dark and depressing. There was definitely a balancing act that had to occur if the filmmakers wanted to make money, and of course they did! (This is Hollywood, don't forget)

So overall, I don't feel like the movie truly carried the heart of the book, but it did not ruin it either. If you are a fan of the book, be warned it is truly an adaptation and not Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game on screen. And if you've never read the book, it will be an entertaining film that may leaving you feeling like you only scratched the surface.
But I would recommend everyone see it. The themes are still there to make us all wonder about the nature of humanity and the lengths we will go to win.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed the movie also and now I look forward to reading the book!