Monday, January 27, 2014

Ender's Game: a critique.

Ender’s Game was never going to live up to its source material. I understood that going in and attempted to temper my expectations, but my preparation was woefully inadequate.

Stop: hammer time.
Now, honestly, a lot of the main movie conventions that they were forced to apply didn’t bother me that much: Ender wasn’t 6 years old; Petra was American; Ender’s father wasn’t American; Bean was at Battle School as long as Ender was; North Carolina is apparently located in Scandanavia; Valentine was a pixelated sister more than a real one; Major Andersen was a woman; the whole of Ender’s time at Battle School took place over about a month and a half; et cetera. They were eye-rolly, sure, but that’s about it.

But what was unbearable, as a fan of the novel, was unbearable. The point of the whole story is that [28 year old spoilers] he doesn’t realize what he’s done until after everything is finished. As far as everything goes, the first fight with the unnamed Stilson was alright. He didn’t drop him with a single kick to the breast bone, but he did at least keep kicking him while he was down, though never in the face like the f’real Ender would’ve. He kills Stilson in that fight, but the movie never acknowledges it. It’s the first instance of Ender’s ruthlessness, and he is ruthless. He plays to win, and he won that fight, forever… in the book. In the movie, Stilson just rolls around on the ground in pain like the pussy he is.

Now, that’s not a big thing to complain about, and that’s exactly my point: it’s such a small but affective moment that they could have included it without edit. Stilson should’ve died.

And the fight with Bonzo (Oh, Bonzo, lol, I’m getting to you, too) was the same. In the book, Ender is truly desperate. He’s surrounded by the 3 year older Bonzo and his (harder, better, faster, stronger) friends, and Bonzo is aiming to kill. He’s forgone all reason and wants Ender dead and the steps Ender takes to win the fight are necessary and even reasonable. The fight in the movie was laughable. He got pushed and hit his head, for Christ’s sake. Not to say that isn’t dangerous and potentially deadly, it’s just noir-ly pathetic. In the book, Bonzo dies (gets destroyed, more like) because he gets cocky, loses sight of Ender in the steam of the showers, and then gets popped in the nuts, repeatedly, even after he’s fallen to the ground underneath a boiling hot shower stream. But in the movie, he doesn’t die, and there’s no way the real Ender would stand for that. Ender doesn’t play games.

Would it be weird if we kissed?
And speaking about the fight with Bonzo (correctly pronounced bone-so, btw) is Bonzo himself. The actor cast to play Bonzo couldn’t have been much more inappropriate unless he was a leprechaun who spoke Hungarian. Firstly, Bonzo is older than Ender and quite a bit taller and stronger, hence one reason Ender was so desperate in their altercation. Secondly, he’s described as tall, dark, and handsome. I have no intention of poking fun at the actor in question’s attractiveness, but he is not tall, dark, nor handsome. In fact, I wonder if they weren’t trying to explain away Bonzo’s unreasonable temper by giving him small man syndrome instead of “an advanced case of Spanish honor.” But it’s still ridiculous. Bonzo was able to command his army because he was someone they wanted to follow. This kid playing Bonzo would in no way be able to inspire that kind of respect. It was a joke, and an unappreciated one at that. Thinking about it later, I think the casting director was perhaps attempting to combine two characters in one: Bonzo Madrid and Rose de Nose, Ender’s second commander in the original story. Rose was a shorter, though still older, Jewish kid with a big nose (not making any stereotype jokes!), whom the actor playing Bonzo much more closely resembles. But still, they absolutely fucked up the perception Bonzo should’ve put forth.

What the fuck is this?!
The relationships between Ender and the supporting cast were totally opposite what they were in the novel. Bernard, the chunky kid who started out with all the friends, never came around. In fact, he was one of Bonzo’s buddies in the bathroom fight where Bonzo gets his comeuppance in the book. There’s little to no chance Ender forgives him, or vice versa, so that they can work together in the final battle. Or ever again, anywhere. Petra was never Ender’s seeming girlfriend (she was Dink’s girlfriend, actually), Dink and Ender were very close (not mere acquaintances), and Bean was definitely Ender’s closest (and combatiest) peer. In the movie, Bean is just a pissant, mouthy kid who’s tinier than Ender (but everyone in this damn movie is tinier than Ender), not a brilliantly imaginative soldier who challenges Ender into becoming the savior of humanity. The movie’s not very long, really. I think they could’ve spent a couple of two minute scenes developing the relationships between him and his subordinates.

There are plenty of other problems, but the biggest is the reveal of “the game.” And not just the game itself, but the whole story of Battle School. In the book, it’s after the final battle that he learns about the Bugger world, the deaths of Stilson, Bonzo, and all of the soldiers he was unwittingly using in the war. It should have happened this way in the movie. Save all of it for the end, then perhaps the audience, realizing that all of this is landing on Ender all at once, can sympathize with his situation. In the movie, he takes it in stride. Stilson’s in the hospital, but fine, regardless of the beating he took. No worry, no mention of him ever again (not to mention, it strikes a different chord when you realize that one 6 year old kid just beat to death another 6 year old – it’s definitely more acceptable if they're a little older, isn’t it?). All Ender knew was that Bonzo got sent back to Earth from Battle School, beaten but not broken in the movie. But in the book, Ender watches the video of his unsuccessful resuscitation after Ender is escorted from the bathroom by Dink. Think about how much more powerful a scene that would’ve been. First Stilson, then Bonzo. Then the soldiers. Then the Buggers. Ender’s just eradicated billions, so he decides to step out of the airlock…

And into Final Fantasy.

And doesn’t kill himself? Seems rather implausible to me.

Of course, he doesn’t in the book, either, (he also doesn't take a trip outside) but if you’re attempting to make a great movie, I think that’s the direction you go. That, or insanity, because ain’t no one going to shoulder that load successfully.

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