Monday, February 16, 2015

Ender's Game, the film

When I heard Ender's Game was being made into a film, I was skeptical. The book is very character-driven, with so much happening inside Ender’s head, that I doubted a movie would work. So I waited until I could borrow the DVD from the library.

While the book will always be my favorite science fiction novel, Orson Scott Card went from being a writer whose skill I respected to a paranoid homophobe. But that’s not the reason I felt this movie wasted my time.

Everything that the book did well, the movie fails at. The book isolates Ender; he doesn’t get along with Bean at first, he’s separated from his friend Alai, and he has to defeat Petra’s army. It’s made very clear that as a commander, he cannot be chummy with subordinates. Which is why the scene at the end where he hears them speak to him, and realizes he’s going into battle with them, is so moving.

Here, they’re his pals from the start. The part where a boy sprains an ankle just before battle is so contrived, as is the magical substitution of Petra to fill in the gap in Ender’s circle of friends. Graff would never have done that to either Ender or Salamander Army.

Speaking of Salamander, in the book, Bonzo is a serious threat. In the film, he’s a foot shorter than Ender. What were they thinking? Bonzo is more muscular, but that height difference works against him. It was like watching a terrier confront a Great Dane. And it’s not as though Bonzo is written as a midget in the book. He’s a secondary character who could have been played by someone bigger than Asa Butterfield.

But the film really fell flat in the depiction of the battles. Those are my favorite part of the book. Ender’s Dragon Army starts out with a routine fight, but things quickly escalate from there. At first he has a battle every day. Then Salamander Army is let into the Battle Room before them and there’s nowhere to hide. And so it builds up to the final battle of the exhausted Dragons against two armies, when you know Ender is going to lose—and, as he tells Bean, he can’t afford to lose even a single fight.

The film shows one battle. One.

If time was limited, why not make this two movies? The problem with smooshing all of those battles into one is that there’s no sense of progression and improvement. The book presented clear problems and showed how Ender outthought them. Here, it’s as though Ender makes intuitive leaps of genius in a few days at most.

By having multiple battles, there was also a sense that Ender wasn’t the only brilliant or mature kid in the school: he learned from Carn Carby, he depended on Bean to come up with ideas, and so on. Whereas in the film, there are only two commanders, Ender and Bonzo. Who is not just a midget but easily dealt with—he’s scalded by boiling water which doesn’t seem to bother Ender at all.

Then again, Peter fares just as badly. In the book, it’s clear that although he’s something of a sociopath, he’s also intelligent, ambitious and manipulative. Here, he’s just a homicidal thug. I couldn’t imagine anyone in their right mind even considering him for Battle School. I didn’t expect the Locke/Demosthenes subplot, but why even have him in the movie if all he does is try to kill Ender?

I could go on and on—how ridiculous it is for a hive queen to skulk around ten minutes’ walk from the bunker, how Asa Butterfield is about as expressive as Kristen Stewart—but in the end, the greatest travesty is that the emotional power of the book is nowhere in evidence. I felt nothing while I watched this. I didn’t even want to listen to the director’s commentary, because one look at a sterile, jumpsuited future filled with lasers and explosions was enough for me.

So to summarize, there’s CGI and action sequences where things get blowed up real good, like Michael Bay minus crassness and hot chicks. If you need more, look elsewhere.


Maria Zannini said...

I'm glad I missed it. I won't bother waiting for it to show up on Netflix.

Thanks for the head's up.

Marian Perera said...

No problem. The only good thing is, if this is the start of a series of films (which I doubt), there aren't too many opportunities for CGI battles in the sequels. They tend to be even more personality-focused and introspective.