I haven’t been one of those “MUST SEE OPENING WEEKEND” people for years. Now I’m a “I want to see it but I’m not wasting my money on it” kind of person. It’s truly a FSM-send that my library spends a significant portion of its budget on films.
I’ve loved this book by Orson Scott Card for years and I’ve read it at least a dozen times. Probably more.
As soon as I saw the trailer for the film, I thought to myself, “This is really going to suck.” I was not disappointed.
Not that I’m a fan of creating trilogies where there wasn’t one (I’m looking at you, Mr. Jackson) but the scope of the story really could have been done better justice by perhaps making two or even three films out of it. Preferably as anime.
Focus the first film on the first part of the book setting up Ender’s young life and first years at Battle school. For the film they aged him by at least 8 years and changed or skipped many events that were influential in terms of Ender growing into his role as “savior” (for lack of better terminology). It skipped the fledgling relationships he built with his classmates, except for the parts where it looked like they were trying to shoe-horn a romance in between Ender and Petra. Pretty much all of his training as a soldier and then as a leader was eliminated; the little they showed was just CG style without much substance. Creating the battle room so Earth would be visible was just stupid. There was not supposed to be any sense of direction to that room at all. A big chunk of the book (and the ending also) relies on the reader understanding that Ender relates to the world around him differently than his peers do, especially in terms of the battle room. That reinterpretation of reality helps him to succeed against all odds and helps him train the ones he’ll rely on in the heat of battle later.
In the book he starts out at the age of 6 and spends 4 years or so in Battle school before going to Command and I think he finishes that when he’s 13 or 14 so I can see why it was decided to cram several book years into what looked like a few weeks for a 15 year old boy instead but they didn’t do a very good job of creating a solid character we could root for and feel compassion for. I’m not blaming the actor here, though. Asa Butterfield was a fine choice to play Ender. I liked him. The choices on the part of the filmmakers just made it impossible for me to care. They really stripped him of his journey of self-discovery and what it was doing to him, how apathy and depression were setting in as time went on with Colonel Graff’s continued pushing of him to be better and better.
The second film could have left us with unanswered questions in terms of Ender’s commitment to this super soldier role thrust upon him and gone back to the beginning of the book to explore the story of the siblings left behind, Peter and Valentine, and what they did while their youngest brother trained for battle. That bit of the book was completely scrapped for the film but was a very interesting part of the story connecting the reader to the bigger picture: why Ender was born; why he had to leave; how governments and prominent civilians can capitalize on fear and charisma to push people in ideological directions they may not have bought into otherwise.
Peter has his heart set on becoming ruler of Earth, essentially. Young though they are, he enlists Valentine’s help writing essays and researching on the nets to stay up to date with, and get ahead of current political ambitions and military movements. He wants to become an influential and vital voice by the time Ender’s years away at training bear fruit. While the Buggers are still considered a threat, the world is united. If Ender can defeat them Peter fears that the world will descend into chaos because each country will find a new reason to return to personal wars using the heroic children Ender fought with as tacticians and generals and try to further their own selfish goals. Peter would rather the world stay in one piece. Easier to become Hegemon if he doesn’t have to try to pick up all the pieces of the world first.
Valentine merely hopes that Ender will stay in one piece himself while they work behind the scenes. Her loving connection to Ender was sadly stripped for the film, barely there as a positive force in his life and thoughts. And what was there didn’t make a whole lot of sense because of what all got left out. A powerful moment in the book version of the game is completely glossed over for the film and all I could do was shake my head and sneer when I watched it. And Peter was reduced to a handful of lines at the start and then nothing. Maybe a few mentions of how he’d bullied Ender as a boy, but again, not enough to get a sense of the ambitions that drove Peter in the first place.
(Just thought of this: in case audiences would be wondering how Ender’s faring up there, key pieces could be pulled from Ender’s Shadow so they could watch his trajectory through the eyes of Bean, a new recruit who’s at first sick to death of the very mention of him but comes to realize his own worth as Ender’s confidant.)
The third film could have blended both storylines and set Ender up for Command school at the asteroid featured in the book instead of a planet near the Bugger’s home world. That was also stupid. Ender wasn’t really there at the end. The whole point of the ansible connection was to link him and his team to the far away fighters and let them feel like they were playing a game rather than tell them they were sacrificing real lives.
The battleroom scenes were a disappointment but I was really hoping for a better representation of the computer game that Ender plays. The futility of the game at certain points mirrors his own feelings of being trapped and hopeless. The game is there to help his superiors see how he handles situations without putting him bodily at risk all the time. Yet the mental risks he faces every time he plays the damned game are nearly his undoing. That was fascinating.
Little was done to show his fascination with the enemy, either, and all the hours he put in studying the tactics from previous battles looking for the clue as to why Mazer Rackham succeeded all those years ago. Then we maybe would have gotten a better view of the Hive Queen and the strange connection to Ender that leads him to find the hidden daughter’s chrysalis years later. Why he feels compelled to look for it in the first place and thus begins his new life as the Speaker of the Dead.
Ah, why am I going on a tear about this? Nerd rage, I suppose. Expectations getting slapped in the face by an unfeeling reality… I just really liked the book. Now I have to add the film to the list of other movies that never managed to bring the book to life for me. Golden Compass, Inkheart, The Colour of Magic, Hogfather… sigh…