I grew up reading Ender’s Game. The copy our family owned growing up was tattered and well-loved from being read so many times. I inhaled the stories of Ender and Dragon Army, and then later the stories of Jane and Human and Miro. It suffices to say that I have been looking forward to an Ender’s Game movie for over twenty years.
So, of course, I saw it last night on opening night, in IMAX. I figured that a story this rich ought to be viewed in the most visually immersive way possible.
I have totally mixed feelings about the movie.
Now, I understand that it is insanely difficult to adapt a book into a movie, especially a book like Ender’s Game. So much of the story takes place inside Ender’s head, and it is very very difficult to convey that in a movie. I get that.
But the story felt too choppy for me, and I think it really missed the mark in one of the key (for me) themes of the story: the relationships.
(Warning: MAJOR spoilers ahead. Duh.)
Ender and …
I think most of the interaction with Ender and his family in the movie was largely pointless. We saw Peter for a single scene. We only see Val (in real life) in three: the bedroom, the dinner table, and the lake.
For the movie, I would’ve just left out the family entirely. The scenes from the Mind Game with Val could’ve been easily replaced with some generic giggling little child, and Ender asking “do you need help?” and then following.
The tension between Ender and Petra in the battle room was totally unnecessary.
I also don’t get why Petra was assigned to Dragon Army for the final battle. She served no other purpose other than to piss off Bonzo. But Bonzo didn’t need pissing off; he already hated Ender for insubordination and then beating him when Bonzo knew he should’ve won. And wouldn’t the teachers have wanted Ender to be a man or two down?
One of the things that’s REALLY not conveyed is how rushed Dragon Army’s schedule was. In the book, they started their first battle a week after being organized. Then battles started coming every day. Then they had two battles on one day. Then they had the final battle against two armies at once.
This is totally lost in the movie. Ender’s brilliance comes because when he feels like he is backed into a corner, he lashes out with furious violence and utter disregard for all established rules. The point made repeatedly in the movie was “win this battle and all future ones”. OK, great. But we didn’t see him backed into a corner very well. And it would’ve only taken 5 minutes to establish this in the movie:
** Ender asleep in bed. The klaxon goes off and he’s told that he has a battle in half an hour. **
** Brief shot of action in the battle room, including the “use a soldier as a shield” trick. **
** Show Dragon Army move up in the rankings, but make their perfect record obvious (1-0). **
** Ender walking down the corridor. A klaxon goes off and he’s told that he has a battle in twenty minutes. Ender frantically uses the comm system to call all members of Dragon Army back to their barracks. **
** Dragon Army moves up again (2-0). **
** Ender sitting in class. A message comes up on his desk that he has a battle in 15 minutes. Ender gets up and leaves class. **
** Dragon Army moves up again (3-0). **
** Cut after cut of “You have a battle in 15 minutes.”, each followed by Dragon moving up in the rankings, still with a perfect score. Ender is looking more and more disheveled in each shot. **
** Call to battle again. As they’re running through the hall, Bean makes a comment about “Nobody ever fights two battles in one day!” Ender responds with “Bean, we’ve fought 12 battles since we were organized three weeks ago. They’re throwing away all the rules now.” **
** Dragon Army moves up again (13-0) **
** Bean comes to Ender’s room and Ender talks for a few seconds about how he can’t keep going on like this. Bean makes a comment about how if the teachers are throwing away the rules, then maybe Ender should too. Ender smiles. **
** Now do the 3 am wake-up call for the 2-v-1 battle. Spend an extra 15 seconds after Bean does his wire trick so Ender can explain “It’s time for us to throw away the rules, too. We’re going to ignore them all and go straight for their gate. And we’re going to do something they’ve never seen us do before. We’re going to do a formation.” **
On the subject of teachers, having Dap salute Ender when he’s made a commander was a very effective scene. I really like Dap.
I didn’t like that Ender’s fight with Bonzo ended with Bonzo cracking his head on the ground. I think Ender should’ve been more directly involved with the injury. It’s supposed to haunt Ender that he killed Bonzo. By having Bonzo stumble backwards and fall, there’s room for Ender to rationalize that Bonzo slipped or tripped and that Ender wasn’t directly responsible for his death.
Again, this is about backing Ender into a psychological corner. Everything is piling up against him, even his own self-hatred that he utterly destroys his enemies and is directly responsible for their death.
Also, the significance of the “your father would be so proud” line was lost, because it was never established that Bonzo comes from a Spanish family that is big on honor. It sounds totally out of place and could’ve been easily replaced with something like “Three against one, huh Bonzo? What are you, a cowardly launchy?” Something much simpler would’ve more than sufficed to egg on Bonzo. But as the movie goes, Bonzo’s father is never mentioned, and the meaning of the line is lost.
Speaking of parents, Bean’s quip that “your mother cheated, which is why you look like a plumber” is astoundingly brilliant.
For all the talk of how Ender destroys his enemies by coming to love them, this was totally lost. We have one scene of Ender analyzing Mazer’s battle and noticing things. Ender asks some questions about the Buggers, but never really gets any answers. He needs to get answers.
He needs to spend more time analyzing video footage of space battles with the Buggers. We need to have a scene of Graff commenting to someone (Chamrajnagar? Ender? Mazer?) about how Ender’s fleet movements are looking more and more like Bugger movements.
That is how he destroys them. It’s because Ender learns to think like the Buggers and command his fleet like them, which means he groks how they fight and how they swarm.
And then he totally uses that against them.
We only got a tiny bit of this, but this is the whole freaking theme of the movie. It’s why there’s the quote at the beginning about how in order to destroy something, you have to come to love them.
Like I mentioned above, Ender is dangerous when he gets backed into a corner and turns into a little fleshy rage monster. And Ender hates it when that happens; it tears him up inside.
But the teachers grok Ender. The know exactly how to push his buttons (see everything about the insane Dragon Army schedule above) to make him feel like he’s backed into the corner.
This, like the stuff with Dragon Army, was totally lost in the movie. We needed to see more about the relentless pace of battle “simulations”. We needed to see Ender becoming more and more desperate. We needed to see Ender going crazy. We needed to see him wake up groggy and not thinking clearly, or waking up in the infirmary because they found him gnawing on his own hand during the night.
That’s why Ender fires on the planet at the end. He wants the battles to stop, and he thinks that if he does something so horrific as that that they’ll leave him alone and let him sleep.
“The enemy’s gate is down.” is one of the most significant and memorable phrases in the whole book, and it’s used twice. Should’ve been emphasized more. It was that phrase that prompted Ender to go “all in” at the final battle, because he remembers how he threw away the rules there to win.
At the end, when Ender challenges Graff about “what about other colonies? how do we know?” and Graff yells back “they are all dead!” (or whatever the quote was) comes off as just stupid. How do we know that they’re all dead? Even something as simple as “all of posts listening for their chatter have just gone silent. They really did pull all the queens back to the home world.” would’ve fixed that, instead of having Graff sound stupid.
We see Ender learning that the Buggers need to harvest water. OK, cool. So what?
The implication that they have faster-than-light travel totally undermines Ender going crazy. Part of the thing that drives him crazy is that in every battle they fight, his ships get older and older (because they’ve been traveling for longer and longer). And at the final battle, he has the oldest ships of all with the earliest version of the Little Doctor. FTL destroys that.
Ender finding the cocoon on the staging planet is really dumb, especially when IT’S LESS THAN A MILE AWAY FROM THE BASE. Did no one think to go exploring around?
It may sound like I hated the movie. I promise I didn’t. It was a good movie. It was Ender’s Game. I just think it could’ve been a lot better.