The enemy's gate is down: my failure to boycott the movie Ender's Game

3:52 PM

It's always a difficult task, translating a beloved book to an onscreen adaptation. If only all could be as on-point as Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings. Alas, this adaptation is not.

In the near future, a hostile alien race (called the Formics, and never buggers) have attacked Earth. If not for the legendary heroics of International Fleet Commander Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), all would have been lost. In preparation for the next attack, highly esteemed Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and the International Military are training only the best young children to find the future Mazer. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a shy, but strategically brilliant boy is pulled out of his school to join the elite in Battle School.

In high school, I read one of the best books I have ever had the good fortune to discover, a book with themes that resonate with me to this day. The Hugo and Nebula award-winning Ender's Game holds a special place in my heart, and in the hearts of every person who I know has read it. I had high hopes for the film, but as is often the case, it fell flat. Not just for fans of the book, but for critics as well.

While the liberties taken are forgivable (you obviously cannot portray Ender as an actual 6-year old and get away with a PG-13 rating), the film's pacing is just bad. The most thought-provoking parts of the book are glossed over in favor of CG theatrics. After the cut you will see why I nearly boycotted the film, several spoilers, and a better alternative to the cinema: a link to the book. As with anything I am a fangirl of, this entry is long and textblock-y.

Orson Scott Card: An Anti-Gay Primer

When I read Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead I held Orson Scott Card in the highest regard as a science fiction author and philosopher. I was extremely disappointed to see him become one of the most prominent and most outspoken anti-gay activists.

In 1990 he argued that "the Church [of Latter-day Saints] has no room for those who, instead of repenting of homosexuality, wish it to become an acceptable behavior in the society of the Saints. [...] Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society."

In 2004, he maintained that "However emotionally bonded a pair of homosexual lovers may feel themselves to be, what they are doing is not marriage. [...] Instead they are attempting to strike a death blow against the well-earned protected status of our, and every other, real marriage. They steal from me what I treasure most, and gain for themselves nothing at all. They won't be married. They'll just be playing dress-up in their parents' clothes."

In 2008, he wrote that, "Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn."

And from 2009 until mid-2013 he was on the board of the so-called National Organization for Marriage, an American non-profit political organization established in 2007 to work against legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States.

For these reasons, I considered joining the boycotting the film altogether. However, when it comes to books and movies my first concern is the quality of the material itself, not the personal life of the artist. And the subject matter doesn't so much as nudge the issue of homosexuality with a 10-foot pole.

Why You Don't Have to Boycott the Film

The good news: though Card takes a producing credit, he had zero say or creative input in the adaptation. More importantly, he won't be receiving any royalties from the film's release. Movie goers can see the film with a clear conscience.

Why You May Want to Skip It Anyway

Let's go through the good stuff first:

I love love LOVE that all nations are represented. Black, Caucasian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian. Just like the book. I also love that Major Anderson is a black woman. Not in the book. Interestingly, Card considered casting Colonel Graff as a woman.

Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff, although softer than he was in the book, did a great job.

I appreciate that they didn't push a romantic angle onto the Ender/Petra plotline. I always found it incredibly sad that even in marriage Ender was entirely logical. I wanted something more passionate for him.

What went wrong, complete with nitpicking:

Ultimately, I think they made the wrong choice of lead. Asa Butterfield lacks the maturity and stoicism that Ender exhibits in the book, even at the age of six. I do have to commend him though for the scene after the final battle. That raw display of emotions may not have been something book!Ender would have done, but it sure tore at my heartstrings; a young boy dealing with enormity of his actions.

Nit-picking: Ender is supposed to be the youngest and the smallest! One of the major themes of the book was bullying, power-tripping by picking on the smallest and the weakest. I also thought Bean would be smaller, instead of the same size as Ender. I actually thought the kid in yellow above would be Bean.

Pacing! Pacing was horrible. Much of the exposition take place in the form of Ender voice-overs. I understand doing away with the subtleties of the book. The Peter-Valentine political subplot is simply too dense; Card himself did away with it when he attempted to write a screenplay in 1998. But none of the main themes were ever expounded upon; they were simply glazed over.

Case in point: the Battle Room. It actually looks really good. But Ender appears far less brilliant here than in the book. There are too few scenes in the Battle Room, the place where Ender actually develops his foundation in tactics. "The enemy's gate is down" as a tactic is totally lost on the audience. As is freezing your legs to use them as a shield.

Ender as an extra in a John Woo film? Thank god there are no doves in space or I would've walked out then and there.

Even less time was spent establishing the psychological trauma experienced by Ender, his developing his more psychotic tendencies, the turmoil he went through as seen in the choices he made in the giant's game, the escalating difficulty of the battles, his trying to understand the buggers.

In that vein, they bungled the most memorable lines from the book. I had such high hopes when they quoted Ender in the opening of the movie. But no, even that all-important theme was rushed through in 30 seconds, with Valentine delivering it. Speaking of that bewilderingly short scene, the impact of Valentine on Ender is non-existent in the movie.

Nit-picking another complete miscast: Moises Arias as Bonzo Madrid. I mean come on, Bonzo (pronounced Bone-so) is a teeny Spaniard who overcompensates for this height with violence? Who's gonna take this guy seriously? (Spoiler alert: no one does.) He's supposed to be 6-8 years older than Ender, at the height of puberty. His whole honor thing is completely thrown out the window. Nit-pick: I'm okay with Bernard becoming an ally. He becomes a good guy here.

I envisioned command station as more compact. Ender is supposed to have only audio communication with his toon leaders; they are to trust his larger view of the entire battle. Plus I kept waiting for Petra's breakdown. It was a vital incident that betrayed the stoicism these kids were going through, evidence of the toll battle was taking on them.

Conclusion: It is hard to capture the internal strife suffered by Ender from the beginning to the end of the book on the screen. The whole movie feels rushed; just scenes strung together. (Judging from stills such as the one above, they seem to have cut out a lot of scenes.) The effects were great but it falls short on many of the themes of the entire series. They tried to do too much in too little time. Either they should have concentrated on one of the themes, or this should have been a longer movie -- a mini-series would have been best.

What You Should Do Instead

I highly recommend the book over the film. Orson Scott Card still profits handsomely from the novel, perched at the top of the latest New York Times Best Seller List for paperback mass-market fiction, so I feel completely comfortable handing you a PDF. It's a scan-to-text document, so some letters are fumbled, like "u" for "v" and such. But I point you to this specific version because it includes a most interesting Introduction -- I suggest you read it after finishing the book.

The original fiction and its sequels are often found at Booksale, Books for Less, and Goodwill. I encourage you to purchase them secondhand. ;)

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Majority of the products you see here are purchased by me. Products that are provided by companies for consideration will contain a footnote indicating that fact, as will affiliate links. Rest assured that all reviews are written with my honest opinion.

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