A while ago Boyfriend shocked that I hadn’t read the book lent me his old copy, and I promptly put it on the shelf for several months. It wasn’t till I saw the trailer for the movie that I actually got around to reading it, so I am coming at this from the point of view as a new fan on all fronts. There will be spoilers for both, so if you’re holding out on one or the other then please do not read this review. I don’t think you have to experience the source material first to truly enjoy a media text, or that the source material is a holy text never to be criticised. I personally enjoy watching the Game of Thrones series then reading the books, and can appreciate that while the Last Airbender Movie was an abomination to the source material, as a stand-alone movie ‘inspired by’ the TV series, it really isn’t all that bad. So with that in mind, I give you my thoughts.
I really regretted waiting so long to read the book as the story hooked me. For the best part of a Saturday I was in sat upright in bed, lost in the story of this Other Earth, rooting for Ender, failing and succeeding with him. The story is utterly gripping, the characters feel really fleshed out and the ending simply took my breath away. After my Saturday reading binge, I was excited for the movie, even though I’ve been burned by movie adaptations before, I was hopeful for this movie. Knowing that I went in with very low expectations, and so while I wasn’t crushed in anyway, it certainly did not do the book justice.
I should say this outright, I was not unhappy about this movie. It wasn’t a bad movie, it just felt a little hollow. While the book is an easy read, it houses this vast and complex world that explored a great many ideas and themes. Using internal dialogue mixed with the narrative, we really get to understand the motivations of the characters and you sympathise with them through all the challenges they face. This is where the movie fails. In movies it is very easy to distill the narrative into a ‘Good Guys vs The Bad Guys’ trope, but in Ender’s Game narrative that line is blurred. That’s part of what makes it such an engaging and compelling story. In an effort to convey the book’s moral ambiguity it somehow managed to make me unable to believe that any character had any strong opinions about anything. Ender is supposed to be this boy genius capable of ruthless and military thinking with a warm and compassionate heart, but at times I felt like he was just cycling through the relevant emotions. As an audience member I never really got a chance to feel settled into the things that I was being told were happening. As Ender enters Battle School Colonel Graff mentions that he will be kept in a constant state of isolation and will never know who his friends are. That literally never happens. At that point the movie turns into a tale of a boy who is an outcast, but then proves himself and gains awesome friendships as a result. Also, possible love interest? Hanh?
There was such a disconnect and I struggled with the movie as a result. Everyone’s emails are being blocked, so they’re all being isolated, how is Ender being treated any differently? We’re told Ender is a genius, but yet we see other students in class get similar grades to him. We’re constantly told he is special and different, and better than the other children, but we are presented with no evidence of this at all.
I could forgive most of those if ending wasn’t such a let down. One of the great realisations at the end of the book was that the humans had taken away the voice of the alien invaders, they had acted out of fear and never really tried to understand who they were or what they were actually doing. That point was totally lost in the movie as the Queen had no voice and we only hear Ender’s? I understand that they were trying to show a telepathic link, but it fell very flat.
The majority of the time I felt that the movie was relying on my knowledge of the book to fill in the gaps, which really sucked. Overall, it felt like the screenwriters had read the Spark Notes entry and decided to turn that into a movie. I honestly would have preferred it if they had focused mostly on Battle School, because I think that would have made an awesome Hollywood action movie of perseverance. Boyfriend suggested a two part movie to really focus on the themes, and I think that might have been best. Because what we’re left with right now is a movie that knows it can be better, but really hadn’t had enough time to discuss everything it wanted to. However, the set design was beautiful, and the space scenes were amazing. It’s such a shame that the story wasn’t as believable as the visuals.
As a movie, it was fun to watch but as an adaptation it fell short of what it promised to deliver because it simply tried to do it all. Ender’s Game is such a big book, I really doubt any one movie can ever do it justice.