Taking into account that the art of reading a book in a timely fashion isn’t a skill high on my list of strengths, my experience with the sci-fi film adaption of Ender’s Game lacked any literary expectations. On the other hand, my NBFF Hot Nerd Girl reads like fish – assuming fish could read advanced literature – and being that she has in fact read Ender’s Game led us to a great idea. Why not offer dueling reviews of the flick from both sides of the entertainment hemispheres. I, from the “I’m too lazy so I’ll just see the movie” side of the tracks, and hers from the more edumacated “I know how to read and you don’t” viewpoint. I’ll start with my own work of art since my review is shorter, makes less sense, and doesn’t have any spoilers. You’ve been warned, so legally I can;t be held liable for her actions.
Geek Outlaw’s Movie-Only Take
If there is one thing Geek Outlaw is confident about, it’s that I’m a cheap date.
I confirmed what most people already knew as I decided to take advantage of my local theater’s $5 Tuesday where every pre-hump day movie is $5 per ticket for any flick, any time. Couple that with the 25 cent banana and free bottle of water from work I smuggled in to the theater and it boggles the mind why I’m still on the open market.
It also marked a first-of-sorts as the Outlaw took in Hollywood’s latest sci-fi release, Ender’s Game, all by my lonesome. If memory serves me correctly – and being a male in my 30’s I’m fairly certain it doesn’t – this was the first time I went to a movie theater Han Solo style.
Enough about my deteriorating social life, and more about Ender’s Game, the new Harrison Ford vehicle based on the somewhat controversial novel from author Orson Scott Card. Unlike the likes of my blogging counterpart Hot Nerd Girl, I have not yet read the book so my perspective comes purely from the film it’s based on.
I’m never one to spend too many words on plot overviews, and I’m not going to break any new ground with this review either. That’s what plot spoiling trailers are for.
Scene editing at it’s best.
The gist behind Ender’s Game the movie is that Earth is recovering from an invasion from an insect-like alien race. (By the way, why do 99.8% of all alien races look like over-fed bugs that mated with the likes of Keith Richards?)
The audience is told that 50 years have passed and humans are preparing for another potential attack from the flying ants. Unfortunately, us two-legged fleshies got lucky when legendary war hero Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) found the enemy’s weakness. Now, the military is looking to the X-Box generation to find the next “One” (and no not the actual Xbox One) to lead mankind to another victory.
Enter Ender Wiggen (Asa Butterfield), a virtual Doogie Houser in the ways of all things strategy and knowing when an extraterrestrial might have his next bowel movement.
Let’s start with the good. Ender’s Game was an entertaining movie in that it proved riveting. When I say riveting, I mean I wasn’t looking at my watch every 10 minutes and wondering what else I could have done with my $5 and two hour investment (Note: it would have involved dinner at Taco Bell, baby oil and a mechanical bull).
The other positives of note related directly to the special effects, specifically to the scenes in the space arena where the Hunger Games-esque team battles took place.
As for the rest of the movie, I can’t say I was impressed by any means. The most glaring issue I had with Ender’s Game may have actually been a result of this being an adaption of a novel, which as I mentioned prior, I’ve never even read a paragraph of. While I never read word one of the original material, the film had a very choppy feel with regards to the story and overall compressed timeline of events.
If I don’t sound like I’m explaining my point well, then it probably wouldn’t be the first time. Nonetheless, Ender’s Game just felt like it had too much story to tell, too many characters to develop and not enough film reel to do it in. In general, relationships seemed to evolve in a matter of seconds – much like they might on The Bachelor – and months of time seemed to be explained in a matter of seconds without even (gasp) a montage!
Another element of the story that struck me as slightly head-scratching, was the odd “are-they-really-just-brother-and-sister” relationship of Ender and his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin). There seemed to be more romantic chemistry between them than Kate and Leo had on that sinking cruise-liner as it plunged to the ocean floor.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the film had to have been Harrison Ford’s Hitler-like locks. No lie, every time he appeared on screen I desperately wanted to draw that goofy little Adolf-stach below his nose to complete the entire Gestapo look. Performance wise, Mr. Ford turned in an average performance with a few small moments of sparks seen from some of his better showings.
Even with the semi-predictable twist ending, Ender’s Game failed to deliver the goods where it counted, the characters. In the end, not enough time was spent with the supporting cast, nor was Asa Butterfield’s turn as Ender incredibly convincing. Still, at $5, free water, and a virtually free piece of fruit, the entertainment value was definitely fulfilled given the cost.
More importantly, any women out there looking for a dating partner that won’t break the bank can reach me at GeekOutlaw@Outlook.com. Even the email is free of charge.
Hot Nerd Girl’s “I read it and you didn’t” take
Fair warning: I’m probably going to spoil the crap out of this movie. Mostly because it’s one of those movies where, since I read the book, I don’t know how to review it without bringing up some of the book and to do that I’ll probably have spoilers. You’ve been warned.
I was so so soooooo excited about this movie. The book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is considered controversial in many circles. Personally, I don’t find it all that controversial but then, I grew up watching Star Trek where they used sci-fi to push the boundaries of what was considered acceptable topics. It’s one of the magical aspects of science fiction, the ability to teach and discuss without necessarily letting people know that they’re being taught or allowing those who do to have something to talk about.
I loved the book. Mostly because I can feel Ender’s pain while reading it. Like many an avid reader, I can identify with most characters on some level. I grew up in a military household where we moved around a lot and I was often finding myself whisked away to a new place, surrounded by strangers, just when I was starting to feel comfortable somewhere. I was shy and didn’t have many friends. But I was lucky in that my teachers recognized the fact that, even though I was quiet, I was smart, and they placed me in gifted programs. Obviously my experiences as a kid were the barest fraction of what Ender went through, but they allow me to empathize with Ender in a way that many people probably can’t.
In the book Ender is at Battle School for several years, from the age of 6 to (if I’m remembering correctly) 12. I knew going into the movie that they would need to abridge his time there and I was ok with that. What I was looking for wasn’t the amount of time they showed him there (it feels like maybe a few months while you’re watching the movie), but the emotional pain and turmoil that he experiences. It’s what I consider the most important aspect of the entire book. Sadly, that was almost completely missing from the film. Aside from some moodiness and a couple of yelling sessions, you don’t get the sense that this is any great challenge for him; that his childhood has been stolen from him. They try to show you that he’s being manipulated by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis), but it seems superficial as opposed to heartbreaking. Certain adults, like Sergeant Dap (Nonso Anozie) and Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) seem to alternate between treating him like a grunt as part of the manipulation, and treating him with extreme reverence, like he’s a Jesus figure who is going to lead him to the Holy Land (that analogy is worthy of its very own post). It makes Asa Butterfield’s portrayal of him seem entitled and cocky as opposed to brilliant and humble/unsure.
In the book Ender’s birth is commissioned. There’s a two child limit and his parents already have Peter (Jimmy ‘Jax’ Pinchak) and Valentine (Abigail Breslin). Both Peter and Valentine are geniuses but Peter is a sociopath and Valentine is too compassionate. But because they both showed so much promise, the International Fleet (IF) allows Ender to be born, hoping that he’ll be a good mix of Peter and Valentine. The parents go along with this because the Dad is an “reformed” Catholic and the Mom is a “reformed” Mormon. They both abandoned their religions in order to have opportunities they wouldn’t have as religious outcasts but they never abandoned their beliefs, which include having multiple children. Still, Ender is an embarrassment. Calling someone a “Third” is like calling someone a “mudblood” in the Harry Potter ‘verse. So when he’s chosen for Battle School it’s a relief to everyone but Valentine, the one person Ender feels any real emotional attachment to. The International Fleet gets what they want and need in Ender. He’s got Peter’s violence when necessary and Valentine’s compassion when necessary. It allows him to understand his enemy and destroy them but in the process he grows to know and love his enemy. Because when you truly understand someone, you cannot help but love them. Because of this, Ender can only do what he needs to do if he believes that it’s a game. So the adults don’t tell him that it’s not.
I’m not sure why the filmmakers decided not to use the term “Bugger” for the aliens. The term “Formic” (Formica is Latin for ant) used in the movie wasn’t seen in any of the books until 1999, a full 14 years after Ender’s Game debuted even though the novel we first see it in, Ender’s Shadow (aka the story of Bean) happens at the same time as Ender’s Game chronologically. It might seem silly to someone who hasn’t read the books, but not hearing the word “Bugger” automatically makes you feel like something is missing from the film. I was worried that they’d cut out the Fantasy Game. It would have been an easy cut to make that would have destroyed the film. I wanted to see more of it though. The entire subplot of Peter as Locke and Valentine as Demosthenes is cut which is really too bad. It helps you get a complete picture of the way the minds of the Wiggin children work and why Ender is the way he is.
The special effects were fantastic. I loved the look of the Battle School, the space travel, and the Command School simulator. The nitpick in me wishes that there had been more of the Battle Room and watching Ender work out the strategies in his mind but that would have required two movies so I have to let that one go. It just bums me out that you don’t get the sense of his true brilliance. Also, the Armies are way too small in the movie. There’s supposed to be something like 40 kids per Army and they maybe had half that. That was an issue I had throughout the movie, there were always too few kids.
One of the key parts of the book is that Colonel Graff is constantly trying to keep Ender isolated. He wants Ender to be completely self-reliant with no one he can depend on. He has fleeting friendships with kids like Alai (Suraj Partha), Petra (Hailee Steinfeld), and Dink (Khylin Rhambo). And more complicated relationships with a few other kids, like Bean (Aramis Knight), but they come in and out of his life and he’s never permitted to get too close. Even at the end when they act as a well-oiled battle machine, he never truly knows them on an emotional level except for a few fleeting moments of connection. There are kids who genuinely like Ender and want to be friends with him (like Petra) even though they are scared of him. Most of the kids dislike him altogether, though everyone respects him. Ironically, the one person who knows Ender better than anyone, even Valentine, is Colonel Graff because he’s been inside of Ender’s head practically from birth. Either with the Monitor implanted in the back of Ender’s neck, or the Fantasy Game later on in Battle School and he uses this knowledge to push Ender to the brink over and over again. In most ways, Ender has no idea just how powerful and brilliant he is. But like many brilliant people, he’s quite fragile. Graff sees this and protects Ender from the knowledge of just how much damage he’s inflicted on a couple of his childhood enemies (Stilson and Bonzo). This is something they softened for the book, I’m guessing because they were looking to attract a young audience. But again, it just doesn’t seem right if you’ve read the book.
The final battle was chilling. It actually gave me goosebumps. I guess because I knew what was really going on. I kept wondering if the movie made sense to anyone who hasn’t read the book but my Mom said that she followed it just fine and enjoyed it way more than I did.
The end threw me off a bit. The big mama Hive Queen showing up in the cave was annoying at first but I got over it pretty quickly because I guess it makes more sense for the newbies than watching a baby Hive Queen emerge from the egg sac only to chat with Ender and go right back inside again. What really bothered me about the end was that they didn’t show Valentine recruiting Ender to go with her on the first colonization ship. Their brother Peter sees both of his genius siblings as a threat to his power agenda and, recognizing this, Valentine removes both her and Ender from the equation. Ender can’t go back to Earth. He’s just killed an entire alien race and the people of Earth will never leave him alone for the rest of his life, either because of how much they love him or how much they loathe him. He doesn’t leave on some solo mission to find the baby Hive Queen a new home; he flings himself into the great unknown with others at his side hoping that, eventually, he’ll land on a planet where he can make up for the Xenocide by giving the baby Hive Queen a new home in which to reintroduce her species.
The performances are fine. No one really stood out as being great or terrible. I personally think that Asa Butterfield is a fantastic child actor (watch him as Mordred on BBC’s Merlin) and he made the most of what he was given as Ender. Harrison Ford was gruff as Graff and I wanted to see more of the internal conflict he experiences in the book, but at least he didn’t seem bored like he has in some of his more recent roles. Ben Kingsley’s Mazer Rackham was not how I pictured the character AT ALL in my head but his facial tattoos gave them a nice excuse to reference the next book in the series Speaker for the Dead.
I could go into a whole spiel about Speaker for the Dead and the Xenocide and what the humans, the Formics, the Piggies, and Jane eventually think of Ender but that’s a whole ‘nuther blog post and I’ve probably written too much about it already.
2 out of 5 Sci-Fives!