Movies: Ender’s Game

The problem with going to a movie made from a great book is that you know the movie will inevitably fall short, but you still want to see the story played out on the big screen. Because the author of Ender’s Game (the book) was one of the producers of Ender’s Game (the movie), I knew the movie would get the key things right. But I still had to keep reminding myself that the movie is a separate work, and that it can be good in different ways from the book, even while lacking so much that made the book great.

The first thing that surprised me was that the movie started with Ender as a preteen rather than a 6-year-old. To see a boy of around twelve use the violence necessary to keep a bully from ever attacking him again just does not have the same impact as seeing that happen with a mere 6-year-old. Still, it makes its point, while bowing to the reality that finding a much younger boy with the ability to play this role convincingly would be as hard as finding a real-life Ender Wiggin.

I had looked forward to seeing how Ender would learn to be a leader, and to gain the loyalty of others. The problem in this regard for the movie is that the entire storyline is compressed into a matter of months rather than years. A few confrontations between Ender and those in authority, a very few battles in the high-tech Battle Room, and a handful of scenes where Ender interacts with fellow students take the place of much richer character development in the novel.

Even so, one cannot help but be impressed by Ender’s ability to deal assertively with authority figures without stepping over the line into outright insubordination (though some of these, such as Bonzo Madrid, may think he does). He shows creativity, not only in developing new ways to win battles, but in how he deals with difficult situations and people.

It seems so rushed, though. I can’t say how I would see him as a potential leader if I didn’t know the whole story from the book. Developing leadership skills takes time, and developing rapport and a sense of being a team takes time. We see the effects, but it didn’t seem to me that we feel it happen.

Perhaps, though, if I had never read the book, I would see it differently. Not being in a position to see it through new eyes, however, I can’t really say.

What I was most impressed by, leaving the theater, was what an impressive work the book is. Some books can be turned into two-hour movies and you don’t feel that a whole lot that is really important has been left out, so long as the main points and the theme and mood are there. But Card packed so much into a relatively short novel that you can’t help but be aware how much was left out of the movie adaptation.

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