For those of you who don’t know, (and that, I imagine is a good number. Unless you’re spying on me, in which case . . .bravo, my ninja seals will be speaking with you shortly).
I’m an aspiring author. Generally means I’m one of those schlubs who works on various writing projects for a good long while and never really gets any of them quite to publishing stage. Time will tell if I stay a schlub or actually get something out onto the market. But . . the point of me telling you this is because I want to mention a fact right off the bat. As one of my biggest inspirations, Orson Scott Card’s “Ender” and “Bean” series are right up there with Terry Pratchett’s writing. If I can end up writing something with half the depth of one of the Ender characters, or the Discworld, I will be . . . if not content, at least partially satisfied.
As Ender’s Game was one of my biggest inspirations, I’ve sort of taken on that fan-based “you can’t change it, you twit!” mentality even though I’m not the author. I was almost positive the movie adaption of the book was going to murder one of the best stories I’d ever read in my life. All before my eyes. It was not a happy prospect as I watched the trailers for Ender’s Game and nitpicked absolutely everything about it.
But, heart quivering with both fear and anticipation, I went to watch the movie adaption of a young boy turned into a military commander.
As it turns out? I was wrong (not exactly a new thing 😉 )
Ender’s Game tells the story of an Earth that was assaulted and nearly destroyed by an alien race known as the Formics. The humans won, miraculously, but still have the rather major problem of having only destroyed the alien fleet, not neutralizing them completely. Humanity sees the writing on the wall, assuming it is a conflict in which one side must be vanquished, and immediately begin scouring the planet for intelligent children.
Now, this isn’t (to me) actually as crazy as it might sound. The human fleets are going to take a while to get to the Formic controlled space, in the range of fifty-plus years. In that case, it makes quite a bit of sense to start looking for smart children right now, and then raising them to be the most terrifying military commander you can find, to control your fleets when you get there. (This is of course assuming you have some way of communicating in real-time with your fleets that are very, very far away. Which the humans handily have).
The movie chronicles the training of Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, a third child in a land where the births are tightly controlled to two children. But due to his siblings both being brilliant, the government allowed his parents the opportunity to have another child in the hopes that he too would be the same. His older brother failed out of the command program for being too quick to violence, his sister a bit too compassionate, the military hoped Ender would strike the balance between those . . . and it’s safe to say he does.
Before I delve too much into the beginning story . . . let me say that the casting for this movie I felt was almost perfect in every way. Ender is played wonderfully by Asa Butterfield, a relative newcomer to the silver screen, he nails the portrayal of Ender to a T, capturing his nuance and essence brilliantly, I would say. I initially thought the casting of Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff, Ender’s half-mentor, half-antagonist commander, was a wrong one. But after watching the movie, I came to the conclusion that Harrison Ford captured the essence of Graff, just as Butterfield did with Ender.
Now then, story-wise . . . it is unfair, to put a movie up against a book. It’s been said that they are two different mediums, and neither is better than the other, just different. I personally feel this is true. A movie has to fit into a short period of space, a book doesn’t. To its credit, the movie got the basics of the book down, which I think is about all a fan could have hoped for (I’m not including those dreams we all have of the perfect movie. Because, yes, that movie would be between twenty and one hundred hours long, and I don’t think the Theaters would be okay with us fans camping out in them for four days).
A brilliant child is found by the military, and sent to a military academy orbiting Earth to be amongst other brilliant children, all learning tactics, strategy, and over-all how to be the best military commanders Earth has ever seen. The aforementioned Colonel Graff is of the mind that Ender is the kid to beat the odds, the one to lead humanity to victory against the Formics, or “Buggers” as they’re more commonly called. So, in true fashion, Graff makes Ender’s life hell, more so than a twelve-year-old in a boot-camp-esque setting already is going through.
Graff speaks of Ender’s brilliance to the other children, calling Ender the smartest one on the station, ensuring they hate him. And then, he lets Ender deal with it. Some might say it sucks to be Ender, and they wouldn’t be far off the mark. Isolated, the adults making sure no one tries to befriend him. It’s up to Ender to make his way through an alien society that revolves around a singular war-game called the battle-room. A zero-G environment that pits groups (Armies) of students against each other in what you could sort of think of as a really violent form of laser-tag.
And here is where the movie and the book’s differences are (painfully) apparent. Where in the book, Ender’s training on the Battle-school took several years, and you got to watch as he went from luanchie (think new kid on the block) to veteran Army commander with a terrifying record of turning his enemies to paste on the game . .. we don’t get to see that. The movie does get the basics down, again. But something is definitely (sadly) lost in the details. He goes from Launchie to being placed in an army within a few months time, is automatically hated by his commander, Bonzo, and starts to slowly befriend others around him, mostly because . .. well, honestly, Ender’s a really nice kid mixed with an utterly ruthless military commander.
And again, I am drawn back to the fact that the movie did keep the spirit alive. The painful happenings of a child raised to be a military commander, set apart from the others, the adults ever pressing him harder, faster, almost frantically trying to push him through the system and get him ready. Harrison Ford’s Graff is relentless. But through it all, Ender builds up a cadre of like-minded children, is given command of an army of his own, and smashes the others out of the way.
Of course, there’s more to it than that, but I don’t want to spoil too much 😉
I already mentioned the casting, and I do love Butterfield’s portrayal. But of course, there were some things (rabid fan, remember?) that I didn’t like.
Most notable was the lack of time. And again, I shouldn’t fault the movie for this, but it was still painful. The book took place over years, the movie over months. It’s always a bit jarring in a movie when there’s so much that has to be cut that you don’t get to see friendship’s develop. You seem them start, and then BAM! Insta-best-friend. The book showed Ender building up his cadre, his unorthodox tactics taking the school by surprise. The movie didn’t have the time. And it was tragic, truly. I can’t help but think that with such excellent actors, it would have been a supreme joy to watch them on the screen as they built up friendships, rather than having to rush through the scenes on a time-budget.
Also, and this is a bit of a minor gripe, I totally understand why they did it. But it still sucks. There’s a sort of secondary character in the movie, Bean. Now, in the books he actually got his own series, and was a strategist equal to Ender in almost every way, perhaps even more brutal in his tactics. As his books ran parallel to Ender’s, readers got to see just how important Bean was to the story. Aiding Ender in a dozen, maybe a hundred different small ways. Acting his youthful, pint-sized protector and secretly, his essential equal or perhaps even more, mentally.
In the books, Bean was key to Ender’s rise. In the movie, he’s just another part of the cadre.
So it sounds like I did have a fair number of complaints, yes? Well, I do. And almost all of them are because I love the books so much, it’s hard to see them cut down, even with good reason. But don’t fret, dear reader. I honestly liked the movie, it was fun. The battle-room scenes were amazing. And whoever thought that Cello music and space-combat went together should get a freaking gold star. Because cello music and space-combat are just sexy when you put them together.
Have I mentioned that Butterfield did a great job as Ender? I did? Well, tough. I’m going to say it again. Asa Butterfield did a stupendous, super-amazing job. Especially considering he had to show a character progression where the watcher didn’t really get to see most of the actual progression.
Go watch the movie, and then please read the books, all of them. Orson Scott Card gave us a wonderful, dark, moving universe full of heroes and villains and fif—no, wait, a hundred (thousand) shades of grey in-between.
Regards, The Baron