Ender's Game: 28 Years in the Making and They Still Rushed it

11/01/2013 Stephen Colbert 0 Comments



I feel like every time a book I've read gets adapted into a movie, I always end up saying "I wish I could have seen that without already knowing the book."

It is especially that way with Ender's Game.  I have a lot of opinions about this movie, and most of them stem from my love for the book.  I do have some praises, but also have some fundamental issues with the direction they took the storytelling.  It would be nice to be able to see the movie without the lens of the source material, but that's impossible, so I'm just going to go with the trusty old "the book is so much better than the movie" rant.

I want to recommend everyone see the movie, but the problem is, if you haven't read the book (which I would also recommend), the movie will spoil the book.  If you have read the book, it will spoil the movie.  Given that fact, read the book fresh without spoilers (or better yet, listen to the audio book read by Stefan Rudnicki.  His reading adds a lot of flavor.)

If you have already read the book and are familiar with the story, you may want to also watch the movie before reading lest I taint your experience with my commentary, but you're an adult, do as you please.

The point is...YOU WILL BE SPOILED if you read this.  If that matters, then follow my advice above, if it doesn't, then you're what's wrong with the world today.  Also, Snape kills Dumbledore.

Ender's Game  takes place in the future in a world that has been defined by a narrow scrape with annihilation from an attack by an alien species the "Formics" 47 years prior to the story of Ender.  The world has banded together to form the International Fleet and children are hand picked based on their abilities to be taken from their families and sent to Battle School, where they are further pruned and trained to be soldiers and officers.

I am a big fan of the casting in this movie.  The first time I read the book, I said "Harrison Ford needs to play Colonel Graff."  They further supplemented that great choice by adding Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham and I also liked Viola Davis as the gender swapped Major Anderson.
The younger casting choices were also good, specifically Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld as Ender Wiggin and Petra Arkanian.  It's just tough to tell a mature story about children without making the children appear to be adults.  Unfortunately, as it is with most stories about children, the story is something that just can't be properly captured on screen in the same way it can in a book, so I get it.  I think the performances by the main characters was good all around, though.  The acting by most secondary characters aside from Moises Arias as Bonzo Madrid, probably the most believable character to me, was particularly wooden and forced.  That's what you get with a children's cast, so that's fine.

When we start to get into the actual story telling is where I have issues.  There is a lot of story to cram into a 2 hour movie, so I understand the pressure put Gavin Hood as writer/director. The story of the book takes place over several years.  Obviously that's a lot of story to tell.  In the books, there are months and months dedicated to Ender's environment being manipulating to put him him into emotional isolation and social tension.  Over the years in the book he overcomes adversity to form strong bonds with his closest friends, but fall into the deep seeded hatred of his enemies.

Gavin Hood unfortunately forgot that movie time is magic and not subject to real time, so early on after Ender arrives at Battle School, he inserts a MacGuffin where Colonel Graff is alerted that there are only 28 days left until The International Fleet begins to engage the Formics.  In an interview with Hero Complex, Gavin Hood said he narrowed the time because he didn't want to have to change actors on the audience due to Ender aging, but we could have had at least a 2 year span in there.  We have the ability to make Asa look a year younger to start and a year older at the end.  It doesn't have to be 6 years, but it can definitely be 2.  Compressing to one month undermines the full potential of every single theme in the movie.  As a result, we end up with a story, where in one month Ender goes from being at home on earth to being hated by everyone at Battle School, to being loved by most people at Battle School, graduates out of 2 armies, commands a 3rd, quits, goes to earth to sulk, goes back to spaces and commands the International Fleet to victory, and also develops the most understanding and empathetic insight into the Formics that anyone else has been had to since the first invasion decades earlier.

There are tools built in to the story to enable the telling to bridge the span over the years without resorting to an epic Rocky style montage.  Graff and Anderson's conversations, Ender's narration and emails to Valentine, and conferences with IF Command to name a few that are completely wasted in favored of an excuse to rush through the story.  I'm not saying Gavin Hood butchered it, but he cut it so lean that most of the weight was also missing at the end.  It didn't have to be rushed.

The issue is this resulted in most scenes feeling rushed like they were always trying to save time for something more important, but by the time they got to where they were going, the poignancy was lost due to lack of development.  Maybe books aren't meant to be made into movies.  Hopefully we will begin seeing more books adapted to a TV format like Game of Thrones since that is a much friendlier format for stories to be told.

I believe most issuse I have with this movie could be solved with a directors cut that removes the one month urgency and adds about 10-15 minutes of additional footage of Graff/Anderson and some of Ender's emails to Valentine to chronicle Ender's time at Battle School and suggest that the time spent there was a little longer.

In the end, Gavin Hood made a good movie. I won't fault him for creating a good movie. I will only fault him for making a good movie out of an amazing story.

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