Ender’s Game Movie [Warning: Contains Pedantic Spoilers]

So, I finally went to go see the Ender’s Game movie tonight, before it left the theaters. In hind-sight, reading the book cover-to-cover within 48hrs before seeing the movie was probably a bad call. If you haven’t read the book, I’d recommend the movie. If you have read the book, I’d probably still recommend the movie, in spite of my gripes (unless you’re one of those people who hate very movie ever made from a book, cause you’ll probably have an aneurism). After thinking through the movie on the way back, I talked myself out of most of my gripes (you shouldn’t have to do that for a movie), realizing that it was the limitations of trying to cram a six year story into a less than 2hr movie. But I did still have one pet peeve, and I’ll put my rant below the fold, since it contains spoilers for those who haven’t yet seen the movie.

Why did they have to have the Command School around a planet in another star system? Doing that was dumb on several levels. First off, it meant you had to screw with the fictional universe and introduce Faster-than-Light travel. Because if the fleet was less than a month out (as was shown in one of the Battle School scenes), that whole trip must have only taken a day or two. But if you had FTL like that, that in a few days could get you far enough from Earth for there to be a comms benefit (which is sort of silly when you have ansibles that communicate instantaneously across the galaxy), then why did they have to launch the fleet in advance? Why couldn’t they have just waited to give Ender more training time?

Oh, but you say they covered that by having him in that hypersleep looking setup during the trip. But the problem is they left a plot-hole. They showed the countdown clock to fleet arrival in an earlier scene, which bounded the trip time to well less than a month. And if he had really travelled relativistically but sub-light to another star system, Valentine would’ve been an old lady by the time he won, but it showed her as a kid. No, there’s no shaking the fact they introduced FTL.

Adding FTL to the story, when it’s pretty clear they want to do a sequel, really screws with a fundamental premise underlying all of the other books. All of those other books assume that humanity is stuck with sub-light (but relativistic) travel. That’s how Ender can be alive over a thousand years after the Xenocide, but still be in the prime of his life. That’s why they had a long time from when the second Xenocide fleets heads out to their planet to figure out what to do about it. That’s why when they do come up with jump travel in Children of the Mind, it’s so neat and unusual. In a universe where you can flit to other solar systems in a day or two, instantaneous travel isn’t that relatively big of a deal.

My other big gripe with having the Command School on a Formic world was the scene near the end where he goes to retrieve the egg. Seriously, you have a structure that’s less than a half mile from your main command complex, and you missed a ginormous queen ant there? You scoured the whole area room-to-room and didn’t notice? And when Ender walks back to base with this big weird pulsating alien looking thing, nobody notices? I mean Ender’s reasonably well built for a kid his age, but where exactly was he going to hide that? I mean you have the entire military leadership of the IF there. They just got through high-fiving you for destroying an enemy civilization, and you don’t think anyone would notice the egg?

As I said earlier, in spite of my reservations, I’d still recommend the movie, and give it a solid B/B+. It was mostly a lot of fun, and I thought the acting was reasonably good. So long as they don’t try to do a sequel, maybe screwing with a core underlying premise of the whole fictional universe won’t hurt anything. But if they do try to do a sequel, I wonder how they’re going to make the story from those books work in a world where you have Star Wars-esque FTL already.

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17 Responses to Ender’s Game Movie [Warning: Contains Pedantic Spoilers]

  1. Ben Brockert says:

    It has barely made back half of its $110M budget. There will not be sequels.

  2. Ahh.. I thought moving the command school to somewhere that Ender could find the egg was a good way of cutting 10 years out of the story line and not having to introduce a “grown up Ender” actor and explain who he is and how time dilation works etc.

    Oh, and the queen wasn’t there on the planet when Ender went outside… she was in his head. The egg was hidden..

    But yeah, I hope there isn’t a sequel as it’ll inevitably be the Hegemon.

  3. Trent,
    I thought about it, and the easy out, had they stuck more to the original story, would’ve been to have him find the egg right after getting to the new colony world. That would’ve allowed them to keep the same child actor. And they could’ve used the hypersleep thingee as an explanation-free way of showing why he didn’t age that would’ve been less damaging to the underlying story than adding FTL.

    Plus, if the Queen was just in Ender’s head during that end scene, they didn’t do a good job of making that clear in the movie.

    But as Ben points out, if they lost money on this one, they’re unlikely to make a sequel, so maybe my gripe is moot.

    ~Jon

  4. born01930 says:

    I haven’t read the books or seen much less looked into the movie. Can’t say that I have read any SF other than my old Asimov books in a long long time (at least 20 years anyway). How are the books? Do you recommend?

  5. Born01930,
    I’d recommend the books. Ender’s Game is pretty dark, dystopian, and disturbing, but ends on a positive note. It’s fairly action packed but at the same time deep. As Trent mentioned elsewhere, there are two parallel threads for sequels, one of them following the main character (the Speaker for the Dead series), and the other one following Bean, one of his friends (the Ender’s Shadow series). The Speaker for the Dead series isn’t as fast paced, or dark as the Ender’s Shadow series (which is in many ways darker than Ender’s Game), but I liked it.

    I’d suggest reading at least Ender’s Game though. I read it through in about 8 or 9 hours this week.

    ~Jon

  6. born01930 says:

    JAG,

    Thanks, I’ll give it read. Just read the 1st 3 Game of Thrones books (which I enjoyed surprisingly as I am not much of a fantasy fan), #4 is a bit of a drag and I am looking for something else.

  7. Pingback: Ender’s Game | Transterrestrial Musings

  8. Mitch H. says:

    I watched it with a co-worker, who had never read the book, and his roommate, who was a fanatic about the book and had just re-read it. I haven’t read the book in a dozen years. The guy who never read the book thought it was great, I thought it was the best possible adaptation of the book given how movies are made, and the roommate fan loathed the movie.

    So your thesis has at least some support in my anecdotal experience. And I was more annoyed with the high-gloss wargame graphics – made it hard to go along with the presupposition that this was all just a simulation when the filmmakers were doing their best to show an actual battle to the limits of their (somewhat dubious, overly-Hollywood-CGI) talents.

  9. I can understand why they didn’t want to talk about battle school being taken back after the Formics occupied Ceres, as they did in the book, especially since they moved Mazer Rackhams prelude battle to Earth instead of out beyond the orbit of Saturn. I have no idea why they moved the battle, which would have been cool as a space battle but was really cheesy with fighter jets.

    All-in-all, it wasn’t too bad. The books are some of my favorite science fiction, so I was terrified that they’d botch it completely and I’d never be able to un-see it. (Kinda like what happened with Starship Troopers. I blame Paul Verhoeven for sullying a cherished piece of my childhood.)

    I don’t really expect sequels–all of the other books are too short on action to adapt very easily, even if the first one eventually gets its bait back.

  10. Leland says:

    I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve pre-ordered from Amazon. My daily commute is long, so I pulled the unabridged version from Audible.com and I also got the “Ender’s Game Alive” version.

    For born, I strongly recommend the unabridged version. It’s a good sci-fi book. If you are any kind of a fan of the genre, then you should like this book. The science is very plausible, and the general story covers interesting aspects of leadership. Plus, if you haven’t been spoiled, there are a few twists at the end.

    Ender’s Game Alive felt like a rehearsal of the movie script. It certainly chopped up parts of the book, and like the movie, it changed scenes and added elements that modified critical parts of the story. There is not FTL, but rather than Ender learning from the found Queen; he learns from exploring the Command School planet, which he learns right off the bat was a former colony. There are other oddities, but the “Alive” version (it has a full cast reading) drops all the mental narrative of what Ender’s thinking and has the Battle School staff handle the exposition of what Ender is doing. That makes sense when you have a script rather than a novel. So I’m surprised that the movie didn’t just follow the “Alive” version.

    Anyway, I too read books before seeing the movie. I do so knowing I’ll probably not like the movie more, but if I see the movie first, I’m less likely to waste my time with the book. The only exception was the original Harry Potter movie, which convinced me to read the series, which then ruined all the remaining movies.

    If I was making the movie, and knew it wouldn’t be true to the book; I would drop most of the story line about Ender’s brother and sister, which is critical to the sequel but not for much of the Ender’s game book. I would end the movie shortly after the final victory. If the movie was a hit, then I could back story the brother and sister in the next release, which would probably work, because the movie watcher would have about the same level of knowledge of Ender’s brother and sister’s doings as Ender when the movie sequel started. But that’s just my $.02.

  11. LCB says:

    I think the battle was moved to earth to drive home how much fear the humans and IF had of the Formics. The said over and over, “Millions died!!!” That was why they were in no mood to communicate with the Formics when the Formics just waited for Enders attack. I thought it was a good move on the movie makers part…

  12. Jonathan Goff says:

    LCB,
    I was actually fine with them doing Mazer Rackham’s battle at earth, for similar reasons to your logic. I still don’t think they needed to have the Command school around a planet in another star system. If they wanted to have it on a planet instead of an asteroid, they could’ve done it on Mars, and said that after the battle they found the Formics had built a forward operating base before sending the Colony to invade earth.

    ~Jon

  13. Chris (Robotbeat) says:

    Yeah, it’s weird to have the battle on Earth*, but I actually liked that change by the time I watched the movie. It makes it feel more believable and near-term (because space battles–when you don’t have mass to push off of like in an atmosphere–are unlikely to be super dynamic like is implied in the book and portrayed in the movie… just projectiles being shot at each other from afar…). I didn’t like the FTL, that made it much more remote and unbelievable, the very opposite. I lost the suspension of unbelief, there. I was okay with it all being on the same planet, but not okay with the FTL part. It’s a little sad that there’s probably no chance of a sequel, but the books (other than Ender’s Game) generally aren’t very well suited to the big screen.

    *(Also answers the question of why the heck we need all these super-advanced fighter jets in the 21st century… LOL)

  14. born01930 says:

    Finally read the book and saw the flick. I think the book would have been adapted to video better as a series like Game of Thrones. Too much to pack into too short of a time frame.
    Couple questions about the book of things maybe I missed…
    Supposedly Ender was fighting the buggers for several battles, yet why din’t he figure that out? His supply of fighters should have dwindled but I never got that, each simulation started with each platoon at strength.

    Another item was when he found the egg. If Val never talked him into going to colonize he would never have seen the Giant. Seems like a pretty minuscule chance of their plan for him finding the egg

    Lastly if they could read his dreams and understand him enough to build the Giant…why didn’t they understand him well enough to know he would have destroyed their world?

    I don’t want to sound nit picky just asking because I may have missed it in my reading

  15. born,
    I don’t have good answers for most of those, but can take a stab at the first one. The reason why he didn’t see force attrition was that the battles were actually taking place in several start systems. The buggers had multiple systems, and they had their fleet traveling at just under the speed of light, with different parts of the fleet heading to different systems, with the goal of having all of them hit at about the same time. So he’d only be fighting some of the battles reusing the same troops from a previous battle. The movie had it all in one star system with FTL travel and crap, but in the books, the speed of light limit made a huge impact on how the war had to be fought. Their concern was that if they hit one system first, then moved on to the others, it would take years between each system, which would give their enemy time to regroup.

    Very different dynamic when travel between nearby systems take years…

    ~Jon

  16. born01930 says:

    Ahhh…yes. I was thinking that since only one battle was near a planet all the others were on the approach to the home world. I had thought that is where the queens were and the colonies were wiped out as soon as the main world had its Drs appt.
    So know I start thinking (not to nit pick, just to see realistically how many colonies there could be) the Formics (is that name used later in the series rather than buggers?)needed to be within 50 light years which leaves about 65 type G stars. Left for the imagination is how we could locate the colonies since they didn’t use radio communication. But at least the numbers are plausible.
    Haven’t decided to read Speaker for the Dead yet…but going to read Foundation as I never read that even though I like Asimov.

  17. Hi Guys!!

    Nice review and I just watched the movie some hours ago and I find it a bit confusing than being entertained. Yeah you’ve pointed out about the dream the Queen was able to read from but hasn’t done anything before the war started and so on. Also the plausibility of finding those colonies for planets so many light years away. Probably I wasn’t able to read all the books yet (hardly any book yet) but I think I will be as I just found a site that has all the books.

    Anyway, I would rate the movie to 8/10 for simply having 3 people (adults) in the movie (lol).

    Nice review guys and definitely I’ll be reading the book of course!

    Have a great day!

    Arlane

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