It's a Game. The Big Game.

Ender's Game

So I want to talk about a movie that came out over a year ago. It may seem like I'm late to the party to do a review of it, but that was kind of the point. The movie I want to talk about is Ender's Game, and the reason I'm only now getting around to discussing the movie is because Orson Scott Card, the author of the book the movie is based on, is a bigoted asshat.

As I'm sure you probably well know by now, Orson Scott Card very much does not like gay people. I've read a variety of quotes from him (likening gay people as "less than human" and a whole bunch of other idiotic hate-speech), and the more I've read the harder and harder it's been to divorce the man from what he writes. I can't buy his books any more because I don't want to support the guy -- voting with my wallet, as the saying goes -- and when it came to the movie, I couldn't in good conscience buy a ticket for the movie (nor buy the Blu-Ray when it came out) because I didn't want to support him.

When you think about it, Card may not be behind the movie being made (he just sold the rights to the book to Lionsgate) but if the movie did well, he'd presumably get some kind of percentage, they'd make sequels, Card would get more money, and on and on. As it turns out, many, many people had the same thought I did because the film, Ender's Game, did rather poorly at the box office -- on a budget of $110 Mil it made $125 Mil (worldwide, mind you), just recouping it's budget but probably not recovering its advertising budget. This weak reception has all but guaranteed the film series is dead.

This is great news and yet, at the same time, a little sad. While I'm firmly in the "fuck Orson Scott Card" camp, and I'm totally happy he won't make more money at this point (although his books are selling to plenty of his fans, so it was only a qualified victory). And yet, the film actually wasn't all that bad at all and, if the author behind the series wasn't a raging douche-nozzle, it would have been nice to actually see more movies set in the universe.

Let me state that I dug many of the Ender books -- while the later books following Ender got... weird, I like the original Ender's Game novel, and the Shadow series (what I read of it before his politics were brought to my attention) were solid stories (even if they didn't ever reach the height of that first novel). I wasn't able to get into Card's non-Ender works, so deciding that I didn't want to support the author was no big issue for me -- take it or leave it, I'd read the best of his works, in my opinion, and could just walk away.

I certainly understand that not everyone shares my opinion of his books, nor does everyone feel the need to boycott him the way I do (as evidenced by the fact people still buy his novels). I have to stand by my morals, though, and I just can't support the dude.

Which, as stated prior, really sucks because the movie was actually pretty good. Following pretty closely to the main beats of the novel, the film goes along with Ender near the end of his schooling before his monitor (which keeps track of everything he sees) is removed. This is part of a series of tests designed to see if Ender can hold up to the pressure of combat, somehow, and eventually take to "battle school" where he'll learn to be an effective space commander.

Why does he want to be a space warrior leader guy? Because the Formics -- an alien race that tried to invade Earth years before -- are out there in space, amassing an army, and we, the humans, need to stop them from coming back to finish the job they started. Ender knows this well, and he wants to do his part.

That basic outline is the same for the book and the movie (and for those that have read both, most of the twists and turns of the book are duplicated in the flick). It's a decent plot, but one of the things I found was that it was done better in the book than the movie. There are a lot of little twists and turns, pushing Ender this way and that, that aren't played properly in the movie.

For instance, when Ender's monitor is first removed near the start of the book, we're lead to believe he's washed out of school and won't get to be a space commander. It's all revealed to be a test, but his sense of loss is palpable. In the flick, though, we already know the military is still watching him because we have a scene where they tell us as such. So when they come out later and say "hey, Ender, it was all a test. Sorry, brah," we aren't surprised like we were in the book.

Most of the meat of the story is played like that, telling us beforehand because the produces didn't trust we could handle all the little twists and turns. We're not dumb, but the producers thought otherwise.

More egregious, though, are the times where they tell us what's going on instead of showing us. The biggest case of this is the series of battles in Battle School, all of which take place in the zero-g environment, allowing the students to get a feel for fighting in space as well as the tactics needed to do it effectively. In the book, a lot of time is spent at Battle School, showing us battle after battle, letting us get a feel for Ender's command strategy. The movie, though, gives us all of two major battles, one of which Ender barely participates, and then tells us, "he's a brilliant commander and obviously our last hope."

How? Why? Because they say so? Well, okay...

So no, the film isn't as good at storytelling as the book. That's liveable, though. What we do get from space combat is pretty effective (especially the later battles in the movie after Ender conquers everyone in Battle School). The production values are solid and everything is, at least, well produced. It's got a slick, futuristic sheen that really works for the subject material.

Thankfully the acting is also spot on, by and large. It's hard to find a large, diverse cast of child actors that can all actually act, but there aren't a lot of missteps from the performances. Sure, we don't get nearly as much time with all the characters as I would like but I'd chalk that up to the rush the producers were in to get through all the source material. For the same reason we didn't get many Battle School battles we also don't get to learn the back-stories of all of Ender's closest lieutenants. They had two hours of movie and probably three and half hours of story -- stuff was gonna get cut.

Battle School? Cut. Back-stories? Cut. More time on Earth with Valentine and... uhm... Ender's brother (shit, what was his name)...

Peter. Right. See, Peter was barely in the movie at all, so his role as Ender's dark side, his motivation to be better than his darker half, is lost. Likewise, his sister Valentine is supposed to be Ender's conscience, but we barely see her either, so the emotional connection is barely felt.

And I think this is the big issue with the movie -- everything had to be cut down for the film so we lost so much. It would have been better to have the book divided into two movies release a year apart -- the film would have had time to breathe and all characters and big sequences could have come across on screen properly. Certainly what was shown was well made (if rushed and a little dumbed down) so I have faith later entire would have been done pretty well, especially if they'd been given more time.

But then we're back to the fact that this movie didn't do well and I didn't want it to, either. The film is great and we needed more of them (especially with this first book, maybe divided up before and after Battle School) but we also don't need more movies, and we certainly don't need to give Orson Scott Card any more money.

Doesn't stop me from feeling torn about it, though.