Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How to Turn Ender's Game into Movie

It has probably been 15 or 20 years since I last read Ender's Game. I am not going to spend much time on the differences between the novel and the movie.  Nor will I spend much time on the controversy about the author of the novel, Orson Scott Card, and his political and moral views.  I believe that art can be and should be separated from its creator's personal views.  In a way, even the artist is separate from his or her individual life.  A work of art stands on its own.  Poe was a binge alcoholic and married his thirteen-year-old cousin.  Hemmingway would have knock down drag out fights with the women in his life. If the Agony and the Ecstasy is to be believed, Michaelangelo was no walk in the park to deal with, and if we go by Amadeus by Peter Shaffer, Mozart was a "giggling dirty-minded creature." I am not comparing the work of Ender's Game to Don Giovanni, but art must stand for its viewer.

And so to the movie...

The problem has always been what to do with Ender to adapt the novel into a movie without killing its incredible spirit.  In the novel, Ender is only seven and the book is brutal.  To put such brutality on the page is one thing and to put it on film, quite another.  How do we make Ender's Game without the audience becoming turned off by the brutality used on a seven year old?   Making Ender a young teen for the movie is still a risk.  Perhaps, with movies like Hunger Games paving the way, the audience could be more accepting of the training of Ender Wiggins.  Perhaps it was that so much of the violence between the children was toned back for the big screen.  It was possibly more though that the young actor Asa Butterfield exudes absolute innocence mixed into an incredibly violent culture. His interactions with his fellow characters are well-crafted. Ender is so likeable and so driven by his need and his innocence, we forgive the character of Ender his many indiscretions.  It was that tone that carried the novel, and it was that tone that is captured in the movie.

The problem with any adaptation is capturing not just the plot lines of a work, but capturing the emotional tone of a work.  When the Lord of the Rings movies were made, the success was not just following the important plot lines of the trilogy. It was also that Peter Jackson had done something no one else had. He captured the magic and wonder for every fan of Middle Earth on film.  The same is true for Ender's Game.  The characters of Colonel Graff, played by Harrison Ford as both father figure and enemy, and Mazer Rackham, as the legendary war hero played by Sir Ben Kingsley, are just right for fans of the book.  If a book has a feel to it that is then captured by its movie adaptation, even those who have not read the book will understand why people are drawn to it.  While personally, I would have liked to seen more growth of character particularly between Ender and the other children like Bean and Petra, the idea of the relationships are in the movie, just not quite as complex.  It is an unfortunate reality of a film that it must compress time and story where a book can take it out and examine it from all sides. The movie captures that feeling for fan and newbie alike.

The other issue is the theme which is blatantly stated up front.  War is not a game, and to win a war, one must understand his enemy.  The problem is, as Ender puts it in both movie and book, "In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him." It is that love - that understanding - which will nearly destroy Ender.  While the movie simplifies its statement about the horror of war, it does capture the intent of the original work.

All in all, Ender's Game is a strong movie and involves us as an audience, especially in the IMAX format. We understand Ender.  We feel for him.  We want him to succeed and understand his reactions when he does.  No small task to put on the shoulders of Asa Butterfield because ultimately the young actor must carry the theme, the emotions, and the weight of this movie.  Well done.  Ender's Game is all that it should be. This is one I will definitely add to my DVD library.