Ever since my parents loaned me their copy of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card to read as a teenager, I’ve been a fan. In one story, Card taught us about the perils of an over-reaching tyrannical government, about the evolution of technology, specifically the Internet, and how to change the rules of the game. “Remember,” said Ender, “the enemy’s gate is down.”
After many years of excitement and trepidation, this modern classic has come to the big screen. I resisted immediately blogging after seeing the movie, but now that I’ve had some time to think about it, here are a few thoughts about what Ender’s Game got right and wrong as compared to the book. Overall, the movie stayed true to the book. While there were these little things here and there, the main point was the same.
Take Aways: If you’ve read the book, go enjoy the movie but try not to get caught up in the minutia. If you haven’t read the book, read it first then go see the movie. If you don’t want to read the book – why are you reading this article?
What It Got Right
1) When watching the movie, I became absorbed in the small details. Because I am so familiar with the book, my thoughts were constantly about which character was in the wrong place at the wrong time and saying the wrong things. It reminded me of the internet-legend that NASA shows new hires the movie Armageddon and has them count the scientific inaccuracies. I was counting as many differences between the movie and the book as I could and in the moment it really got to me.
However, as I sat back and considered the movie afterwards, I recognized that the movie was only two hours long. To fit the entire book into a screen play would have called for several movies. Making the necessary adjustments to when the characters did what was probably a good call. (Though what would it have hurt to make the movie two and a half hours long?)
2) The allusion to a romance between Ender and Petra almost made me vomit. Didn’t they read the book?! Ender was six and she was, like, eleven! That’s gross. But again, it wasn’t as bad as it originally seemed to my book-loving sensibilities. Ender and all of the children needed to be older for the sake of the screen play. They didn’t have time to watch him grow up, and they only had one actor.
So, I can see where it would have been hard to pretend that nothing was going on with two teenage characters one male and one female. They went right up to the line of implying that there was a relationship, and then backed away from it when Ender went out into space by himself. I can accept it.
3) Which leads me to the next point, that they completely cut out the subplot of Valentine and Peter Wiggin. It did hurt the story a bit, because the casual movie-goer has no idea why Ender was so afraid of Peter when he saw his image in the game or why Valentine’s letters meant so much to Ender. However, the story of the older two Wiggins could be a movie all its own, and I agree that focusing on Ender was a good decision.
The greatest question that I have is that if they are going to attempt a sequel, how are they going to explain Valentine going to space with Ender when they left her on Earth in the screen play? Questions, questions.
What It Got Wrong
1) The movie was strictly written for fans of the book and did not have much appeal to uninitiated viewers. Without the reference of the book, the characters in the movie undoubtedly seem underdeveloped and static. We don’t really get a look into Ender’s family or life on Earth to see the damage that the totalitarian militaristic government has caused. This is unfortunate because the movie could have played off of the success of other dystopian hits, like The Hunger Games, if they had paid more attention to the affects of the government on Earth.
2) In the movie they merged Ender’s video game which was developed by a relationship with him and the computer, and his dreams which were the result of the Formic’s reaching out to his subconscious. They could never explain in the movie how the Formic’s were able to affect the computer and change the game, and that absence is a problem.
3) Perhaps the most important error is that the movie failed to explain why the Formics never returned. Jordon Ballor of the Acton Institute, and fellow nerd, summed up this complaint better than I ever could.
The Formics had no conception of a species other than their own, so in their first interaction with human beings, they abided by something like the golden rule: the treated humans as they would wish to be treated. For a species similar in social relationship to an insect colony like ants, this meant that the drones or workers were deployed to take over another colony’s area. The lives of the individual workers meant nothing, as they were all part of a larger collective controlled by the queen.
The significant difference in perspective between humans and the Formics comes to clarity in the realization that every single, individual human being is a queen – a center of personality, talent and moral agency. We are all, in the words of Genesis, created in God’s image and likeness. And as the Psalmist celebrates, humans are made “a little lower than the angels” and “crowned … with glory and honor.” The moral calculus of what the Formics have wrought can be inferred from the divine sanction against murder, also from Genesis: “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.”
There is a measure of redemption beyond blood reckoning, however. This understanding that turns toward loving forgiveness is the redemptive dynamic of Ender’s Game. The movie has lessons to teach us about how to communicate with and relate to our fellow human beings, who C.S. Lewis once described as “immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” We are all queens.
Read the rest of Jordan’s excellent post here.
By leaving this out, the screen play confused a lot of new viewers about why Ender felt guilt over destroying the Formics. One commentator even said on Facebook, “alien forces kill tens of millions of humans and when we wipe them out, the supposed hero warrior feels bad and goes to help them rebuild? Heck no.”
Clearly this person missed the point, and that is fault of Gavin Hood.
Comment: What do you think the movie got right or wrong compared to the book?