Article written by RAA for use by Nerd Clout

Just like other hardcore fans of the novel, I waited more than a DECADE for Ender’s Game the movie. The movie preserves the essence of the novel and deftly does it justice. [Spoilers & words, lots of words]

 

Context and HYPE!

Let me start this off by giving some context to my anticipation build-up for last night. I, like a whole host of others, love Ender’s Game. Ender’s Shadow, the entire Ender’s series, and Bean’s tale as well… all that shit, I eat it up. Ender’s Game has held a special place in my heart for a long time. The psychological focal lens, the philosophical conundrums, awesome tactical details + military exposition, awesome ideas for the future (this movie managed to modernize a lot of amazing sci-fi, since keep in mind, this book is 30 years old and was just then showcasing an ambitiously naïve conception of the internet through Demosthenes and Locke) and that’s only Ender’s Game. The series gets way darker and more complicated, delving into foreign species relations, quantum physics, and artificial intelligences as Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind progress.

Ok ok, I’m already on a tangent and I haven’t even gotten started. Sorry, I was just so excited about the experience for so many years, since like, 2003 maybe? After having read the novel, I knew there were turbulent plans to make it into a film, and at the time, it seemed completely inconceivable. I remember a bunch of commotion about the anti-bullying, kid on kid violence (still shown), the 6-11 year olds running amok naked and discussing military tactics (I could see how that’s more or less unfilmable), the scenes in the gravity room and how it would look (oh man, even 5 years ago this was a mystery), and I didn’t even feel a concern about the Command school because I simply had no idea how they could possibly even start to brainstorm that challenge. And the ending? What? How could they possibly have any emotional impact, for fans of the book and also newcomers to the story via the movie?

Well fuck! It wasn’t happening. The movie wasn’t being made. I remember Wolfgang Puck (Troy director) was set to make it, and they had some promising ideas. Minor changes here and there, but when considering how cumbersome movie adaptations usually are, it’s understandable concern. If they were going to do a mini-series, we’d lose some polish and budget, but we’d be able to see every scene play out, all of the character and plot development intact, more focus on the complex emotional issues… but, well, we knew we were getting a movie. Hell, before the movie even came out, it’s pretty easy to see how an adaptation or remake brings the original source material to a wider audience, thereby getting more people to experience the wonderful story of Ender’s Game. I just didn’t expect it to be as good as it was. Justice was fucking served.


The Movie Drops, and I’m getting AMPED!

Ok, I’m amped. I wanted to see it Imax, scheduling prevented that, but no biggie. I’d seen reviews. I knew it was doing decent, and let’s face it, the trailer was dope, the cast is amazing, and no matter what, it was gonna be an interesting depiction. The intro scenes are phenomenal. They showcase in graphic detail Ender’s monitor being removed, the encounter with the first bully, and establish the war between the formics and humanity. Ender seems to act just like I’ve pictured him. So contemplative, calculated, and genuine. Asa is killing it right from the get-go.

I’ll admit that he’s clearly a bit older than he was in the novel, yet they never actually give any clues to his age. This isn’t a contention for me in the slightest, nor are many of the other changes they made in the movie. The book is dense. Plot cuts worked to plausibly construct the film into a feature length film, unless they’d gone with a 3 hour epic ala LoTR, but damn, maybe next time. Unlike many others, I liked seeing Bean in the launch group. I don’t recall seeing him in the trailer at all and thought he wasn’t going to be a prominent character, and seeing him get as much screen time as he got really (when thinking he’d be totally written out, more or less) got me amped. This story wasn’t for Bean. Ender’s Game the movie was clearly Ender’s story. It took all the important bits from the novel regarding Ender and hyper-focused them, and while the supporting characters are so lush in the novel, here they are used to propel the plot and Ender’s journey.

ACTING and Performances

IMO, if they continue the saga with the films (and here’s hoping it does well at the Box Office), I hope they continue to make small adjustments to focus the story even more on Ender. Ender himself is an amazing character, and that’s probably where the movie succeeds the most.

Oh man, not just Ender though. Everyone was cast well and gave a phenomenal performance. More than anything I’d have to say that I’m glad they actually managed to find an actor that could provide Ender with the sort of charisma and thoughtfulness that he seems to have. There are plenty of times that Ender makes some questionable decisions later on in the saga, after he’s spent more of his life living through diplomacy (the finale of Ender in Exile comes to mind), but I couldn’t be more pleased with how Ender was brought to life. Considerable thanks to Gavin Hood, Asa Butterfield, and of course OSC. Graff and Ender’s relationship was pretty intriguing IMO. They switched up the power balance constantly, and Graff exposed his various sides of affection and mentorship, and ultimately looks like the bad guy who uses his protégé like a scalpel. The movie actually showcases the relationship better than the book in lots of ways, and I think the emotional impact at the end may have been better conducted through the visual medium. Shit, the acting was a huge portion of why this movie was “unfilmable”. No one thought it could be pulled off years back, and boom, Asa and Harrison to the rescue, it seems. Dap was stellar. I didn’t even get stoked to see Dap, but his salute to Ender after the way Ender goaded him was probably the most touching moment in the film. Petra was candid, but not overwhelmingly amazing. Bonzo was downright perfect. I don’t recall him being so small, but as far as an inferiority complexes mitigated by blind rage and rigidity to authority go, he ruled his role. The way they showcased him and Ender’s fight was… interesting to say the least. It was impactful, and I’ve seen a lot of people complaining, but it seemed a pretty strong message to me. Also seeing Bonzo get neutralized like that made me cringe pretty hard.

Anderson as a critique of the program rather than a carbon copy of Graff was nice to see, as was the way they actually managed to incorporate the deception the ending relied on. Instead of seeing a broken down Ender wanting to give up, we’re given an eager Ender, ready to prove himself as a potential commander. The big reveal worked in a lot of ways. We never get a glimpse of the emotions the other officers feel in the novel, but it’s harrowing to watch their faces as the human ships wither and wane during the final battle. These moments, when viewed in a movie, really do fill up thousands of words in seconds where full pages might be used.


Where the movie is BETTER than the book

But shit, y’all, the movie was downright amazing when compared to the onslaught of production difficulties it had up against it. I ain’t much for “wishlist” critiques, where people go in with massive expectations, and then subsequently nitpick the movie to death because it didn’t live up to their bloated vision, as if that’s an actual dissection of the qualities the movie possesses. It’s tough in an adaptation because that’s often the focus – bringing the novel to a visual light with accuracy, but it’s just not possible most of the time with feature films.

The straight up amazing stuff the movie excelled at was in how they showcased the visuals. I was beyond pleased with the structure of the battleroom, the visual changes, and the zero-g combat. I loved Ender’s grace in battle and the look of the suits. The zoom in on the hardening of the muscle fibers was nutso, and despite a somewhat truncated emotional impact due to quickened pacing, the battles were intense and had me cheering for Ender like a decade-old hometeam. The actual Command School simulations were pretty damn jaw-dropping. I don’t know about y’all,  but I didn’t quite envision it like the movie did, and was pleased to see some gaps filled in for me. Every single time that I was witnessing the destruction of a human ship, I recoiled. I don’t usually feel that way about fictional characters, but the fact that I was watching a simulation of a story (the movie itself) and living vicariously as Ender whilst he lived a simulation made our experience interestingly equal. We both recognized the images before us as simulation, and yet are both deceived. It’s an interesting feeling to watch the final battle because as I knew they were real people the whole time, the knowledge that Ender didn’t know was in my head which made them feel all the more real. I think that this duel simulation of movie/Command School and audience/Ender made the discussion of death and winning-at-what-cost all the more impactful — dare I say even more impactful than the novel itself.

I don’t think I’ve had a similar contemplative emotion as in that particular final battle in any movie, so Kudos to that.

Minor Gripes and advocacy

With all that said, it stands to be mentioned that my main complaint, and others’ is that there justwasn’t enough of the movie. I, we, everyone, wanted more. I wanted to see more, stay with the characters more, and hear more of their thoughts. We didn’t get as much of that as we liked, and I’d say it’s a fairly large compliment that every character had a valuable on-screen presence. The only scene I remember watching and thinking that it was low impact was Valentine and Ender in the boat 2/3rds of the way through.

Obviously I want this movie to do well, as I hope we can see more of these amazing character. I want to see Valentine and Ender journeying through the galaxy. I want to see how Ender handles inter-species relations and quantum physics conundrums. I want to see Bean motherfucking step up like we all know he’s capable of, and I want to see how they manage to portray Achilles in the story. I want an Ender’s Shadow stand-alone movie in a couple of years, and I want the Ender’s Sage to continue with many of the cerebrally stimulating themes the wonderful books do. Likely speaking, we won’t be seeing any of this for a while, but I think I’ll go watch the movie in theaters once more so that I can at least say I tried to make it happen.

TL;DR

From my perspective as a hardcore Ender’s Sage fan who’s waited for a decade for the film… it was better than I could have ever hoped it to be. This certainly comes from the angle that I knew it was in production HELL and I very wisely managed my expectations of what a novel — > movie adaptation must change. I didn’t mind a single change that occurred, and was beyond blown away with how gracefully the complex thematic nature translated to the screen. They kept in what I consider the majority of themes and ideas (and even alluded to new ones via Speaker for the Dead) whilst focusing the story on Ender. The pacing was blisteringly fast, and my only complaint is that I just wanted to experience more of it. As a companion piece to one of my favorite novels, Ender’s Game is amazing. As a stand-alone movie, I think it tried a lot of interesting concepts and did a fairly good job given the short running time. It ain’t perfect, but it sure as fuck did the novel justice. Fans of the book should rejoice.