Sunday, 5 October 2014

Ender's Game

We watched Ender's Game last night. I was surprised how well the book translated to the big screen, if truth be told. I missed reading the book when I first had a chance back in GCSE English and I wish I could turn back the clock and fix that. I read the book just after University and then, unusually for me, I read it again in my first year of teaching. Why? It was apposite and reminded me that, in schools, often the perception is that the adults are the enemy and that this is totally for valid reasons. I also loved the pace and the immediacy of the book. So, how could they condense all that into a single film that was less than two hours long and maintain any sense of the source material?

The truest depiction of the motif of the
book in a film poster I could find.

Would you like to know more?

The first thing that they can do is cast a child actor who looks and sounds not a little unlike Edward Norton to play the lead. Seriously, Norton has the acting chops to make even Ang Lee's The Hulk bearable to watch for an evening and so anything in his sort of range will have me watching it. And in Ender Wiggin it just makes the whole thing a little more believable. I had a hard time parsing the extra tech on the film with what I remembered from the book and yet it worked just fine. So I was aware that they had changed something early on and I couldn't put my finger on it at all. Rereading the book I realised it was the situation with the Buggers, sorry, Formix and how humanity had been attacked and then retaliated. Also, having Harrison Ford reading out lines from the book verbatim did wonders. No, really, that was well played.

Edward Norton is Ender Wiggin.
Played by someone else.
Then you need to focus on the character of Ender. So none of Valentine and Peter slowly taking over the world via opinion on the internet over social media and none of the battle sequences in the battle room where Ender trains his own troops. But that makes a bit of sense. When we get to see some of the battles you realise just how hard it would be to render those sequences without making them a montage without emotional impact or else destroying the context. They also had to close down a great deal of the mind game and the different alliances that shift and change throughout the book so that we can get to follow something of Ender as a person.

With Valentine.

She doesn't use Facebook and Twitter to conquer the planet with
Peter, but hey, it's a short film.
A number of times I thought they were going to mess up the twist, which is fantastic by the way, and at one point I thought they had. But Anna, who has never read the book and hadn't heard of it until we watched it, was sat next to me the whole time and never guessed the ending, except by rampant blanket guessing as she twigged that something was up. In any case, the film captures the feeling very well toward the end and, because it didn't faff about with the battle school, we had investment in the person of Ender and his crew of misfits, allowing us to get a montage sequence until the last battle. By extending the latter pages of the book to fill a good twenty minutes they also manage to bury the twist a little more effectively - or else audiences would know that the final battle was the final battle, if you see what I mean.

Don't get me wrong, I would have loved a longer film. If you could have a series filmed at this quality that would be even better - but unlikely to get Harrison Ford involved - and I would have to sell my soul in order to own it and thus pay royalties to the man that created the book. Also, my work rate would suffer as I would want to inhale the whole damn thing from start to finish. As it was, they had to skip over some of the other characters and fast forward some of the development (as well as make Ender even more preternaturally gifted than he is in the book). That was a sore point, but I can't fault them for making those decisions.

In short, despite the fact that Orson Scott Card is an odious individual, the film is really good and really faithful to the original (occasional asides about Mormonism that I never really spotted before the film elected not to show them aside). If you are looking for a decent film on DVD, rent this or get it on netflix or, better yet, borrow from a library so that there aren't any royalties supporting OSC from your end. Then get the book from a charity shop and read it. Read it good, and read it before watching the film, you shan't be disappointed.

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