Friday, November 22, 2013

PCP in Theaters - Ender's Game

My wife and I are good friends with another couple, Ryan and Amber, and they reached out to us about going to see Ender's Game in theaters. They are both big sci-fi and fantasy fans (and Ryan has a similar but geekier blog called Skillpoint Station which I encourage you to check out) and had bonded over their enjoyment of the book. Meanwhile, my wife and I hadn't read the book, but we were always up for a fun night out, so we agreed. I read the book rapidly in the week before we saw the film, so I could judge the film while having the book fresh in my mind. I wonder if that made it better or worse?

Ender's Game - 2013, rated PG-13. My rating: 7 out of 10.

Ender's Game is set in the future, on an Earth different from ours. Humanity has defeated an alien invasion, and are working towards preparing for round two of the war versus the alien invaders, the bug-like Formics. Humanity has started a program of testing of their children to find those that have tactical & strategic genius, and then shipping them off to a special school called Battle School to hone their combat abilities. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is our protagonist, a super-genius that the leaders of the school Col. Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis) believe may hold the key to humanity's survival versus the Formics, a species that vastly outnumbers humanity.

Ender's studies in the school consist of tactical games in the zero-g battle room, which was pretty nifty to see on the big screen. He learns to deal with frustration, learns even more brilliant tactics, makes friends with most of his peers, and learns to lead on the battlefield. Before long he is graduated to the Command School, where he now commands fleets of ships in a virtual reality simulation against the Formics. As he faces ever more insurmountable odds, he has to find more ways to win, lest he flunk out and fail his teachers. In terms of the plot, I'm going to stop there until later in this post in the spoilers section, so as not to give anything away now.

Having the book fresh in my mind, I was slightly disappointed in the film, but I also had low expectations. I knew that there was no way the film would be able to show all of the battles that the book contained, without being significantly longer than its two hour running time. In the book, Ender went through some 50 odd battles, but in the film he has only a handful, which really doesn't give the audience the chance to see just how outside the box his ideas were and how much more advanced than his peers he really was. I think if the film was maybe about 20 minutes longer and had a few more battles then it would've been better. Also, I didn't like that the film (or the book for that matter) didn't really comment on the idea of training children for war or have anything to say about just how awful of a thing that is.

Visually, the film was pretty well done, with great visual effects including the zero-g combat of Battle School, and the immersive virtual reality of the massive battles of Command School. The effects were better than I expected them to be, with the film only having a budget of $110 million. Overall though, the film is a lot of flash and not a lot of substance, and I thought it was good but disappointing. I think I would've liked it better had I not read the book. Of the four of us that saw the movie that day, my wife was the only one that hadn't read the book and she liked the film the best. So, when this film comes out on blu-ray, rent it from your local library or Redbox now that Blockbuster is toast, or stream it. It's still worth seeing, but you don't need to rush out and see it while it's still in theaters.

Ok if you don't want spoilers, stop here. After the jump I'm going to be talking about changes from the book to the film and discussing some of my beefs with the plot of the film in greater details. So again, from here on out, SPOILERS AHEAD after the jump! --->

As with any literary adaptation, things have to get changed in order to make it onto the big screen, so I am not opposed to changes in general. I understand that they are necessary in order for the film to make sense, especially with a book that takes place largely inside one character's mind like Ender's Game does.

Changes from the book that I liked: There was a whole b-plot outside of the events of the school that focused a lot on Ender's siblings Peter and Valentine. I am glad that this was cut out completely, because it would only be necessary if the sequels are ever made, and based on the box office returns of this film a sequel won't be happening. So, that omission from the books was well done and allowed the focus to remain where it belonged, on Ender. Also, they changed the name of the aliens. In the original book, the alien race has the nickname of "Buggers" because they resemble giant insects. It isn't until the sequel books that we learn they call themselves the Formics. The film just calls them this right from the start, which I thought was well done.

Changes from the book that I didn't like: Because they had to condense a lot of the plot down, they changed a number of the characters in a lot of ways that I did not like. The character of Bean was introduced way earlier than he should have been in the film, which threw me off, and also completely changed his origin story. They also changed the character of Bonzo significantly in terms of appearance. In the book, Bonzo, Ender's first student commander, was significantly larger than Ender and was more able to effectively bully him. In the film, Bonzo is smaller than Ender, despite being older, and he has more of a Napoleon complex because of this. The physical appearance of Bonzo in the film is actually the appearance from the novels of Ender's commander after Bonzo. The other thing about Bonzo that was changed for the film is his death. In the film, Ender inadvertently kills Bonzo in a one on one fight, when he slips and hits his head with a sickening crunch. In the book, Ender beats him down but is pulled off of him and immediately taken from the scene by the school's staff, and only the reader learns that he just killed Bonzo; Ender is told that he was shipped back to Earth to recuperate. I think the film toned down some of the brutal aspects of Ender's character and I didn't like that.

Aside from the character changes, there were a few other things changed from the book that I didn't like. As I said earlier, the film should've been about 20 minutes longer in order to better show how much of a tactical genius Ender is. The other thing I didn't like is somewhat trivial, but it bothered me a lot. In the book, humanity is in its 3rd war with the Formics, while in the film it is only the second. This makes the ultimate resolution of the film far more brutal. Ender learns at the end that his "simulations" were no simulations, he was actually commanding the human fleet in battle against the Formics, and he just succeeded in virtually exterminating their race with a superweapon that dissolved their planet. In the books, humanity was able to justify this by it being their third war with the Formics (the other two having been started by the aliens) and that humanity was taking extreme measures to protect itself. With the film having this be only the 2nd conflict between the two species, it makes humanity's willingness to eradicate a whole species extremely savage and unsettling, since they just committed genocide on a planet.

Ok those were my thoughts on the film and book. Have you seen it or read the book? What did you think?

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