Ender's Game (film: 2013, book: 1985)
Director: Gavin Hood
Screenplay: Gavin Hood
Novel: Orson Scott Card
Cinematographer: Donald McAlpine
by Susan Bartley
I have read both the book and seen the movie and can’t believe that Ender’s Game is as successful as it is. The basic premise is that once upon a time, a young, wimpy kid was discovered to be really great at video games and laser tag and within less than a year becomes a top admiral who leads and succeeds in fighting an interplanetary war. One review mentioned that the never-ending somberness became near-depressing by the conclusion. I couldn’t agree more. These kids are so serious that it’s cute for a few moments and becomes exponentially more annoying as the story continues. I don’t know what happened on Earth where they couldn’t find anyone over the age of twelve to fight the most dangerous and globally existential threat of all time, but the pickings must have been pretty slim.
I read the book about six months after seeing the movie only because I found it in a junk store bin for a dollar. In the preface, author Orson Scott Card describes how his book was beloved by fourteen year olds because it portrayed them like adults. I couldn’t help reading this remembering how seriously fourteen year olds wanted to be taken, having been one and desiring the same. Later, I talked to a friend about the book. He said he enjoyed it as a kid, though hadn’t read it since. I unleashed my criticism and he kind of laughed and mildly agreed. It made me wonder if any adult who’s a general fan of fiction - and never read the book - could possibly enjoy this story.
I was hoping the movie indulged in elements that might have been more muted in the novel and could be blamed as the classic case of a far greater book than movie. Instead, the novel was faithfully adapted and even left out much of the melodrama. I respect that Orson Scott Card admired his fans’ opinion. I also have doubts that this was what he was attempting to do. I don’t in any way believe he was taking some revolutionary or profound approach to the characters, deliberately putting adult minds in teenage bodies and exploring the inherent conflicts. If that was the case, and the story played with more satire I could have absolutely appreciated it. After all, watching teenagers act like adults - making jokes, getting mad, busting balls - is some of the greatest people watching you can find. For the anxsy teenage students who were into science fiction, looking for someone to take them seriously and all those who were close enough, of course they enjoyed the material. It doesn’t contain much in terms of mature and mixed emotional depth like most actual adults have.
Instead it all seems to play out like the mind of a 12 year old, as though they gave a pre-teen free reign to develop a story. "Well, like, I’ll be really great at video games, and I played Laser Tag at Chuckee Cheese once, so that’s how we’ll train, and then aliens will come and I’ll kill them all with my friends.” The easier, more accessible solution would been to have done what Divergent did and make the kids at least eighteen years old (if not no other reason than Hollywood casting mid-20s performers in the roles would relieve the problem all the more so).
The complete lack of explanation as to why these young children are so sought after opposed to anyone else in existence makes it all the more infuriating. But even if I could buy into the situation or they were all four years older, I still simply don’t like any of these characters. They all exist somewhere between the jocks who could cry over losing a game in gym class, and the kid who always raised his hand and got good - not perfect - grades and had zero friends cause he was unbearably socially awkward. Michael Bay says he makes his movies for fourteen year old boys. Orson Scott Card should taken cue. Serious characters don’t mean people will take the story seriously.
BELOW: Ender demonstrating how good he is at video games, which will come in handy when battling against an entire planet's space fleet
Leave a Reply.
© Jonathan Cvack and Yellow Barrel, 2015 - 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jon Cvack and Yellow Barrel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.