Lowdown: A child goes through rigorous training as he's prepared to lead humanity against an attacking alien race.
As much as I have issues with Orson Scott Card’s religious beliefs and views on homosexuals, I got to hand him the credit of writing one of science fiction’s cornerstone books: Ender’s Game. I read the book and loved it long before I knew much about its author. Card’s standing makes me regard him negatively in many a way, but it still does not change the fact he wrote one hell of a book. Throw Harrison Ford into the cinematic version and you have yourself Ender’s Game, a film I was anxiously waiting to watch.
I got to hand it to the movie: I liked it, finding it plenty exciting. But like all great books translated to the big screen, I could not avoid running ongoing comparisons with the original. When these comparisons find the movie version lacking, there can be no doubt my enjoyment suffers (the process was most recently endured with the first Hobbit film). Sure, I know the differences between the projected image and the written words mandate changes; but did these changes have to be so bad?
Ender’s Game is set in a not too terribly futuristic universe where humanity is attacked by an insect like race of aliens. On the brink of defeat “we” managed to pull a stunt and win the battle for earth, albeit at a high cost. Now, as we are preparing for the next round, earth deems its best hopes lie with its children. It establishes special training to groom the children into the strategists that could win the video game like war with the aliens come the second round.
Of these children, Ender (Asa Butterfield) seems the most promising. His tactics in dealing with bullies have him winning every round, even when outnumbered by much bigger kids. He has his issues, though, feeling eclipsed by his older brother etc, issues that earth’s command (manifested through Ford’s character) try to make the most of in order to forge their future leader. The military commanders consider Ender’s ability to understand his enemy and draw conclusions from this understanding to be the one advantage he has over everybody else. Thus they ensure Ender is always marginalised, disadvantaged and outright suffers as he progresses through his training, with the aim of taking his skills that much further. The training itself is comprised of a series of games simulating the upcoming battles, hence the title “Ender’s Game”.
I said already that I was troubled by Ender’s Game’s deviations from the written word. My troubles came twice: first through the feeling that Ender’s marginalisation, as portrayed on the screen, did not feel half as bad as it did in the book. Perhaps this was due to the very sanitised look and feel of the movie in comparison with the rough and dirty settings I had imagined while reading the book. I have to give credit to the movie, though: it looks good. However, I do wonder whether a scruffier look would have enhanced viewers’ abilities to feel for Ender.
Second, and more important, is the deviation from what is probably the book’s winning card. The book plays a trick on its reader with regards to the nature of the games that Ender goes through, a trick the movie avoids; us viewers know exactly what’s going on all along. It is only Ender that doesn’t. Thus, again, I found another barrier forming between Ender and I. I understood the reason for this change and the movie’s need to offer several big time action scenes as opposed to the book’s numerous little games, but I cannot claim to approve this deviation.
Here is another big time book interpretation that’s playing a lose/lose deck of cards. Those who did not read the book will regard Ender’s Game as a small blip on the radar, a movie they’ll forget by the start of tomorrow’s working day. Those who did read the book, however, will forever lament the various ways in which their old time favourite has been backstabbed.
Pretending this controversy did not exist, I will still give Ender’s Game 3.5 out of 5 crabs for offering exciting damaged goods with a worthy message on needing to understand one’s perceived enemy. Even in the most militarised society, once one understands one's enemy, one may realise there is no enemy.