Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ender's Game - A Review

For the first time in a decade, I went to a theater to see a movie. I have waited a long time for Ender’s Game and didn’t want to wait for HBO or the DVD. I was mildly disappointed which I’ll explain in a minute. I will say that the special effects are spectacular, I thought the acting was just fine, and there was hardly a wasted scene, though I don’t know why we saw the shuttle launch twice.

I understood that they couldn’t begin as did the book with Ender as a little kid, too young really, for battle school but who is seen as the last of the possible saviors of Earth. I didn’t mind that Ender was a young teenager (meaning that he wasn’t 18 or 19 but about 14). And I was a little annoyed that it took them nearly ten minutes to get him to battle school.

Here’s where I think they partially slipped off the tracks. One of my favorite parts of the novel was what happened in battle school. You get some interesting interaction with the other students, you saw the isolation of Ender, and you began to understand his philosophy of not only winning the current battle, but winning those that might follow by destroying his enemy. Here, they rushed through that. You don’t see Petra teaching Ender other than some instruction in how to use his weapon in the battle room, or Ender teaching the other launchies, except for a brief scene.

And you don’t get a feel for the importance of the game they all play. You see, briefly, a standing of the various “Armies” but you don’t understand that much of battle school revolves around that. And you don’t see Petra’s rage when Ender beats her Army badly in one of those “mock” battles. You don’t understand that the game is important until they change the rules attempting to defeat Ender by pitting his Army against two in the battle room. And, most important to me, you don’t understand the significance of the term, “The enemy’s gate is down.”

After just a few of these battles, Ender is sent on to Command School where he meets Mazer Rackham who defeated the Formics… but in the book, that was the second invasion and not the first. In the movie, there was no second invasion so that the Terran (Earthlings to you unenlightened) attack seems to be slightly misplaced. Rackham had a sort of mythical existence in the book, the hero who stopped the second invasion. You simply don’t get that feeling here. Rackham is just another of the teachers for Ender.

As Ender progresses through the Command School, fighting one simulated battle after another, you don’t get the sense of tension that was built in the novel. You do see Ender nearly lose a battle… in the movie it seemed that he did, but in the book, he was able to pull it out.

But the biggest failure is for the final battle that will decide if Ender graduates. You simply do not get the overwhelming sense of hopelessness that Ender felt when he saw the size of the enemy fleet arrayed against him and this is the real disappointment for me. He hesitates only momentarily so that when Bean says, “The enemy’s gate is down,” you don’t feel the sense of relief that Ender felt when he realized that the task was impossible, but he was going to try to win anyway. You don’t understand how that one little phrase pushed him into a battle that seemed impossible to win.

What all this points to is that the movie was only an hour and fifty-four minutes long and I wonder if it wouldn’t have better to plan it for two separate movies because there is a natural break. Take it through battle school, develop the characters a little more deeply and end after the last battle there, when Ender quits the school. The final scene would be Valentine telling Ender that he has to go back. The second movie is, of course command school, where you get some very compelling scenes in the novel that are missing from the film.

All that said, I enjoyed the film. I don’t wonder what Orson Scott Card thought about it, because he had a role in bringing it to the screen. We see, I suspect, his vision of the battle school, and his vision of the Formics, and his vision of the final encounter. And an impression vision it is. I said earlier that it was spectacular and it certainly is. I also understand some of the limitations of bringing a novel to the screen so understand why some things were done the way they were.

This is what sometimes happens to me. I point out all the things that I found disappointing in a film and spend very little time on all the things that are right. The battle room was spectacular. Seeing the inside of the school, the uniforms, the classrooms was great. The battle sequences in the command school were awe inspiring. There wasn’t a dull moment in the film and if there were some aspects of the book ignored it was only because the novel was so rich as a source. They simply couldn’t put everything into a film that lasted under two hours.

I suppose the best thing you can say about a movie is that you’d spend money to see it again, and I certainly will. I also understand why some of those who have read the books were disappointed in the movie (there really should have been more of Bean and Petra) but had I not read the books, I would rate this movie much higher. As it is, I thought it was a very good movie that just missed being a great movie. Those who have read the books should enter the theater knowing that you cannot translate the world of that novel to a movie screen because you have to jettison too many of things that make the book great. Remember that, and you’ll have a good time

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