The enemy’s gate is down – review of Ender’s Game

November 11, 2013

It unfortunately took me a full week after it was released to see Ender’s Game.  I originally debated bringing a notebook (not joking) so I could write down everything, but I forgot, so if I mess up a line or two, I apologize.  And for the record, yes, I know Orson Scott Card is terrible, no I don’t excuse his behavior, yes I realize I’m supporting him by attending his movie, yes I am conflicted about it.  I chose to go see it to support the others who worked on the film, to be able to accurately criticize the film, and because the film itself shows none of the prejudices Card holds.  I agree, it’s still not okay, but I went.

The breakdown for me was things they did like the book and correctly, things they changed but I’m okay with, and things they changed that I’m NOT okay with.  Spoilers for the movie, the book, and minor ones for the whole series, plus mentions of Ender’s Shadow.  I mean…don’t read this if you haven’t seen the movie or read the books?  Cool.  Let’s do this.

Things they did like the book/correctly

1. The Battle Room
Oh my goodness, it looked SO GOOD.  I don’t know how exactly they filmed it, but the zero gravity was incredibly realistic.  It wasn’t exactly what I had pictured while reading the books, but it was visually stunning.  I’d also say the set development, from Battle School to the Formics’ ships to the screens on which the Command School battles took place, all looked amazing, and those who created them should be commended.

2. The final battle
Not exactly how I pictured it (I don’t think they needed the dramatic music behind Ender giving orders), but also really, really well done.  The trust the other kids have in Ender even though he’s about to command them to do the unthinkable is pictured very well.  When Graff reveals that it was all real, Ender’s dialogue is not exactly as it was in the book, but the whole spirit of the thing is absolutely perfect: your heart hurts for the kids, and Ender’s line about “it’s HOW we win that’s important” is A+.

3. Mazer Rackham
Ben Kingsley is, as always, perfection.  Relatively minor role but he kills it.  And although it’s sad to say that I need to give credit for NOT whitewashing a character, it is due here: I’m very happy they allowed Rackham to keep the Maori tattoos.
Things they changed but I’m okay with it
Sidenote: if you’re mad that they made Anderson a black woman, you’re silly/deal with it.

1. The ages of the kids 
Ender is six when he arrives at Battle School.  Asa Butterfield, the actor who played Ender, was absolutely fantastic and should win all the awards, but he is just so old.  Bean looks old.  Petra looks old.  Bernard, especially, looks old.  However, I know that to cast the film accurately you’d have to find child geniuses who are also actors.  Therefore, I understand changes had to be made, and Asa was 100% the right choice.  My boyfriend has not read the books, and when he heard that the kids are older in the movie than they are in the book, he responded with “that doesn’t make it any better.”  He’s exactly right: the fact that the children are 12-13 as opposed to 8 doesn’t improve the fact that they are soldiers being trained to kill. 

2. Ender’s fight with Bonzo
For those who haven’t read the book, the fight is significantly more awful: Ender strikes upward on Bonzo’s face at nose level, and it is later explained that he fractured Bonzo’s skull and drove it into his brain.  He’s absolutely killed, and Graff attempts to hide this fact from Ender, but he obviously figures it out.  The movie made it look like more of an accident that Ender really hurts this kid, and it’s not clear that he’s killed.  However, this is a PG-13 movie, and I understand that watching a child destroy the face of another child would be a tough sell.  The way it was done in the film was still dramatic enough, and Ender still feels the pain from his actions, so I’m fine with this.

3. The explanations the adults hand to Ender
I’m still not sure if this one belongs in this category or the third one.  Let me explain a bit more.  Some of the things Ender figures out on his own (that Graff is making him a target during the launch, that his Dragon army is made up of misfits) are simply handed to him by Graff rather than Ender figuring them out on his own.  I’m not thrilled with the way that happens, because a huge part of Ender’s skill is his ability to understand just how the adults are trying to screw with him, but since they were using voiceovers so sparingly and you can’t be inside his head like in the novel, I get that they had to feed this info to the audience somehow.  Maybe it could have been done better, but it didn’t wreck anything so it can stay.

Things they changed and I’m not okay with it

1. Leaving out Valentine and Peter’s storyline
This one is my big annoyance.  The way that two teenagers essentially take over the political system of Earth through philosophy and the internet was one of the coolest parts of the book, and it’s totally ignored.  I understand that they had a limited time in which to tell a story, but Valentine was turned into this sad, sobbing Ender-helper instead of the brilliant, sympathetic, and complicated character she is.  Frankly, I hated her scene with Ender on the lake, when in the book, it was my favorite.  Peter is there as well just to hit Ender once and then we basically don’t hear from him.  It’s also implied at the end of the film that Ender is going to travel the universe with the hive queen, but without Valentine.

The part that was most difficult for me with this is seeing Valentine and Peter used in the mind game and barely seeing them otherwise.  Those scenes were very intense for me in the books but barely had an impact in the film, because we know very little about Ender’s siblings. (This is similar to the emotion, or lack thereof, that I feel for Prim in The Hunger Games.) I get that the moviemakers decided this was Ender’s story, but I am really disappointed to see that they decided Peter and especially Valentine were expendable.  They’re straight up not.  

2. Making Bean kind of annoying
No mention of any of the Ender’s Shadow series whatsoever.  Bean makes a “your mom” joke.  Ender and Bean are Launchies at the same time, which throws off the whole power dynamic.  Bean offers up the fact that he grew up on the streets in the first ten seconds of meeting Ender.  This one might just be me, but I didn’t “buy” Bean.  He felt like a whole different character.   The actor playing him did just fine with the awful lines they gave him, but I kind of wanted to drop kick him by the end of the movie.

3. The training leading up to the final battle
Final battle was done exceptionally well, but I’m not thrilled with the way they led the audience in.  First, Ender fails a mission, which for me was like “um you’re joking right.”  I know it’s hard to show “we won but barely” on-screen, but Ender doesn’t fail missions; that’s kind of the point.  Also, at the last battle, all of the kids including Ender looked remarkably…bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as it were.  They’re supposed to be exhausted.  Petra’s supposed to crash, along with several others on his team.  A three minute montage of their many battles and lack of sleep would have done the trick.

Any other thoughts?  Anyone think it was terrible? Amazing?  I’d love to hear about it!    

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