Thursday, 7 August 2014

Ender’s Game – Soulless Sci-Fi

This is my second 'Ender's Game' review.

For my review of the book, head over here.

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Literary adaptions are risky business.

Admittedly, it’s rare to have a source sparse enough that you can include every nuance and subtlety, but what you absolutely have to ensure is that you capture, and recreate, the essence of the source material; the tone, the over-riding message, extended metaphors etc.

So, I’m saddened to say that essence is exactly what Gavin Hood’s (director) ‘Ender’s Game’ adaptation is sorely lacking.

He nails the spectacle with frenetic space battles and his team do a great job with the sets and the movies overall aesthetic. He even leaves room for some moments of real visual style. But, he also loses so much of what made Orson Scott Card’s novel great in the first place.


By cutting down on the Battle Room encounters, the audience really has no idea just how lightening fast Ender is. In the novel, there are pages and pages of battles with each one expanding and advancing Ender’s peerless mind. But, in the movie, Ender no longer struggles through these battles. The extremes that Graff and the teachers push Ender to are reduced to a name rising up a leaderboard. He floats to the top rather than trudging there, battered and bruised.

So why care about this kid? He’s got it easy. There’s no internal breakdown, no exhaustion. Any difficulties are left alluded to or forgotten about entirely. But that's one of the charming qualities of Card’s novel; it's proud of the fact it tends to leave very little down to the imagination . . . and Card couldn’t care less because of it. It's clear reading the novel that his confidence in that story is tangible.

Hood, however, seems somewhat ashamed. Gone is the friendship kiss and Ender’s unflinching (and tremendously creepy) love for his sister. Everything is too clean, too perfect, and inexcusably empty.

Some of the cuts are sensible (the Locke and Demosthenes stuff), but fast-forwarding through some of the parts of the novel that often became a slog just seems like an easy way out. However it might have felt reading them, I believe that those slogs were included for a reason. Card wanted us to feel what Ender felt and, when things were tough for him, they were often tough for us as well.

It’s a real shame to admit it but, in this neutered form, ‘Ender’s Game’ barely holds together as a narrative. As opposed to Card’s novel which had a thematic gel holding the whole thing together, whether you like the story or not.

So, in the end, Hood has given us a SparkNotes plot summary of a story that deserves far more than that.

★★