I love me some good film adaptations. I studied them as part of my Masters in English at BYU. If you’ve been reading my blog and my reviews for a while, you’ll know I’m no simple “the book is always better than the movie” sort of a guy. I fully realize that books and films are two different mediums, and as soon as you make the transition from one to the other, you’re going to have to make some changes. Got that? I get it.
Ender’s Game is a terrible movie adaptation because it tries too hard to be a “good” adaptation. And by “good,” I mean the dreaded F word:
Movies that try to be too faithful to their corresponding books almost always end in wailing and gnashing of teeth, and Ender’s Game is a prime example of this principle at work.
I love the book. Let’s get that out of the way right off. I read it when I was 10 or so, and I’ve loved it–and reread it–ever since. Why do I love it? Because of the believable journey Ender goes on. I loved how Card was able to convince me that this child became the leader for the entire military force of Earth. I loved the way he moved up the ranks in battle school. The innovative approaches he had. The struggles he overcame. The friends he made along the way. I loved Command School. I loved Peter and Val and the way they gamed the system.
It’s a fantastic book.
And when it came time for the film to be done, they tried to cram all the best scenes from the book into the movie. The end result is what feels like a “best of” compilation on fast forward. The book was Danny Kaye in the Court Jester Knighting scene. It started out somber and cool and got me thinking that things might really be awesome–and then the king said “Faster!” and it all fell apart.
Yes, there’s the giant’s riddle. There’s the messages on the tablets. There’s some battle training. Dragon Army. Bean. Petra. Rackham. But they’re all rushed so quickly across the screen, we never have a chance to get to know them. To like them. Ender feels like he’s in the school for a few months. He’s in Command School for a few weeks.
It looks like the military of earth put a kid in charge who’d had less than a half year of real training. And worse yet, he was somehow able to earn all their trust in that half year.
It doesn’t work at all. It hits all the scenes, but by skipping the parts that set those scenes up, the scenes don’t work at all. The characters feel flat and forced, no matter what the actors try to do to breathe life into them.
Is the book unadaptable? Nope. But it certainly needs a different approach. In this case, I would have recommended ditching Val, Peter, and Earth life altogether. Start off at Battle School. Focus on that. Make us see it and understand it and see Ender overcome it. If that’s in place, then Command School is going to work much better. Also, doing all of this in under two hours? Not going to happen. I think you’d need another half hour or so to really make it snap.
Ideally, I think it would work best as a television series that lasts one season. Give it a good 13 hour HBO adaptation, and you could have a whole lot of awesome on your hands. Unfortunately, this film makes the possibility of that ever happening remote at best. It’s got some good effects and some good scenes, but it lacks any sort of an emotional punch. Five out of 10 stars for me, and considering the book is a 10/10, that’s quite the fall. Sad.
Good thing a bad adaptation can’t do anything to a great book.