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Ender's Game - the movie

Edric O

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I saw the new Ender's Game movie tonight. I've been a fan of the novel ever since I read it a few years ago, and I was really looking forward to finally seeing Ender on the big screen. I was really hoping that the movie would be faithful to the book. And it was! It was more faithful to the book than the vast majority of Hollywood adaptations.

But... although the movie was good, it was not great. It was entertaining, but not thought-provoking. It failed to live up to the standards of the book. And, ironically, the reason for this failure is because it tried too hard to follow the source text. Yes, that's right, I have lived to see the day when a Hollywood movie actually goes too far in trying to be faithful to a book!

Having said that, I hope there are other fans of Ender's Game around here and we can start a discussion about the movie, so here is my analysis of what went wrong.

------ SPOILER WARNING ------

(probably for the entire thread)

The reason why the novel Ender's Game is a masterpiece of science fiction is because of the way it combines so many different thought-provoking themes. Each of them, by itself, could make a good book. To weave them all together is to create a work of genius. As far as I can discern, the themes are at least six in number:

1. The (im)morality of genocide.

2. The encounter between Humanity and a truly alien species - so alien that even basic communication is impossible.

3. The psychological manipulation required to turn normal human beings into perfect killing machines.

4. Combat in zero gravity - the Battle Room, the importance of the fact that there is no "up" or "down", etc.

5. The world seen through the eyes of child geniuses - their views of adults, etc.

6. The difference between a person's character and the morality of their actions (this is a story in which a sociopath prevents World War Three while a kind-hearted boy murders an entire species).

The movie tries too hard to include all of them and ends up not really addressing any of them properly. The genocide issue features prominently in the ending, of course, but prior to that no one wonders about the morality of killing, and Mazer Rackham's speculation that the Formics don't understand human individuality (and therefore don't see killing individuals as ending a sapient life) is missing completely.

The alien-ness of the Formics and the discovery that the war was ultimately a misunderstanding is also mentioned only in passing at the end.

Graff and the other teachers at the Battle School are shown as regular officers and instructors, not the devious manipulators that they are in the book.

Combat in zero gravity is shown extensively, but rarely talked about or explained. The phrase "the enemy's gate is down" is said twice, but given a completely trivial meaning rather than the one in the book. It is never mentioned that the IF has developed artificial gravity and keeps this a secret from the rest of the world. It is never mentioned that the humans have FTL communications but lack FTL travel, or that the existence of FTL communications is also kept secret from people on Earth.

Other than Ender, all the children and teenagers act like regular people their age, not like the frighteningly intelligent masterminds they are supposed to be.

And since Peter does not appear at all except in a scene where he bullies Ender right at the beginning of the movie, we never see his rise to become Hegemon, his plan for saving the world, or the contrast between him and Ender.

What the movie does show is only a little bit of each of these themes, which is not enough for the audience to understand without having read the book. It does include all of the iconic moments and lines from the novel, but they seem thrown together in a haphazard, unfocused way. This is definitely a movie made for the fans, but in the negative sense that it's more concerned with showing off the most memorable parts of the book rather than telling a good story. It's clear that there was no way to address all of the book's themes in two hours, but the proper solution to that problem should have been to simply remove some of those themes and the associated story arcs entirely, in order to give the others enough screen time. It would have been a hard choice, and no doubt many fans would have complained. But, being a fan myself, let me just say that I would much rather see a movie that handles some of the book's themes well and cuts out the rest, instead of a movie that tries to handle all of them and ends up not doing justice to any of them.

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You've seen the new movie, meaning there is a previous version of it? wink.png


Anyway...besides the obvious differences between a written story and a screenplay I found the film surprisingly entertaining. Al lot of stuff for thought, although I doubt  that 114 minutes opened a lot of peoples eyes for those thoughts.

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6. The difference between a person's character and the morality of their actions (this is a story in which a sociopath prevents World War Three while a kind-hearted boy murders an entire species).

I have heard about the book but never read it (I'm actually not much into SF literature in general). Regarding the quoted point however, it suddenly reminded me of something I have read recently in Kevin Sites' book The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won't Tell You About What They've Seen, Done or Failed to Do in War. I wonder if you're familiar with it?
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