Movie Review: Ender’s Game

Enderby Brad Nelson   2/21/14
I read this novel by Orson Scott Card about ten years ago or so. And I considered it then about one or two notches above mediocre. It was certainly readable, but it was not what I considered upper-tier sci-fi.

So it goes without saying, this is one time when one could have a reasonable expectation that the movie could be better than the book.

Oops. Not even close. This movie is so bad it did little but evoke philosophical musings in me about culture and taste in general. More and more movies these days have this same stupefied formula: They are visually sophisticated (as Ender’s Game indeed is) but are thematically immature, dull, and somewhat artless. Although I’ll gain some eyerolls from the uninitiated crowd who doesn’t know the subtext to this idea, but surely this is another example of what Dennis Prager calls “Everything the Left touches it makes worse.”

And I don’t mean that Orson Scott Card is a liberal. Hardly. His site, The Ornery American, has, from time to time, produced some astoundingly good conservative critiques.

But there is a general dumbing-down effect in our culture (due to the Left) as particularly seen in and around Hollywood. We’re talking about what is surely an atrophying of just plain good taste and artfulness. This is the best explanation I have for yet another movie that looks the same, and is flawed in the same ways, as the last dozen I have watched (including the terrible sci-fi film with Matt Damon, Elysium).

But you didn’t come here to hear me wax high political theory but to read about the movie. And I must first warn you that there will be some spoilers. There is no other way to get to the heart of this movie without doing so.

The general premise of Ender’s Game is that the Earth, about fifty years ago, was attacked by a race of bug-like creatures called the “Formics.” Millions of people were killed when the Formics invaded Earth, but these invaders were eventually repelled. The military commanders expect to have to do battle with them once again, so they are forming an elite force…of children…to prepare for that eventuality.

This theme is barely plausible in the book simply because many of these “children” are portrayed less like children and more like savants. But as one review at IMDB.com aptly wrote:

…these 12-year-olds are supposed to be the best of the best on Earth, trained in a military facility to be Napoleonic commanders. But they come across as a bunch of little kids having a good old time playing Wii at a sleepover where they stayed up past their bed time.

And thus the very premise of this movie — which, in my opinion, was always hanging by a thread — is completely blown apart. The central character of the film, Ender (played artlessly by Asa Butterfield), comes across more as a Pajama Boy than a savant. Harrison Ford and Viola Davis take turns either throwing around stale commander dialogue or, in the case of Davis, psycho-babble. That is to say, there isn’t much depth to the adults in this film either.

And there is certainly little to no character development regarding the kids, particularly Ender. Memory does not serve, in this case (because I read the book so long ago), how Ender went from an unknown child to commander of all Earth forces (with the concomitant loyalty and respect of the people around him). That aspect doesn’t show up in the movie. Instead, this movie is a bit like one of those low-budget biographies of some famous person which zooms through time and is little more than a conglomeration of snapshots — as if showing various Kodachrome slides is the same thing as telling a story.

As that same reviewer quoted above noted about Ender’s lack of character depth and development:

Ender is supposed to become one of the greatest leaders in human history, as well as winning his soldiers’ respect to the point where they would “follow him to the moon without a space suite.” But the movie would have you believe that Ender won the allegiance of his hostile classmates by cracking a single joke.

That pretty much sums up the movie. Again, visually it’s interesting. And the one part of the movie that is semi-interesting is when they are in the zero-gravity “battle dome” taking part in military-style games. But that’s about all the praise I can heap on this one. The rest is basically just various doses of the same kind of dumbness we saw in such movies as Avatar or the more recent Elysium. If I were a paranoid I would think that Hollywood is producing such one-dimensional drivel just to get my goat.

If you’re interested in this story, skip this horrid movie and go right to the book where you will stumble upon the exceedingly dubious plot device that the military high command on earth has left the defense of earth to a bunch of yutes who are doing the equivalent of playing Call of Duty on the X-box.

And then (main plot spoiler alert), if that wasn’t dubious enough, they don’t tell these kids that they are actually battling the Formic aliens in real life (if only by remote control). They tell them instead that they are merely engaging in battle simulations.

I don’t know about you, but if you’ve ever seen kids play (let alone adults), you would definitely want them to know that such battles were real if only because kids tend to do a lot of screwing around when playing games. (Ooo…watch me do a wheely on the alien mother ship!) And what if, at the penultimate moment when they were ready to set off the Ender equivalent of the Wave Motion Gun, Ender had to go take a pee? Wouldn’t he have just hit the “pause” button and come back in a minute or two?

And then at the end (as I believe is consistent with the book) you get all this gratuitous hand-wringing and caterwauling about what a horrible thing they did. We destroyed an entire race of beings. Oh, boo hoo.

Still, in more artful hands than the hacks who produced this movie (including Orson Scott Card), there’s certainly enough material here to construct an exciting and engaging movie. It just seems that so few people these days know how to do so. • (3073 views)

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.

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12 Responses to Movie Review: Ender’s Game

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    The idea of training kids is hardly new (the old British navy often had very young midshipmen), and was used successfully in the movie The Last Starfighter — but of course, that’s a comedy (with Robert Preston in effect playing an alien Harold Hill).

    As far as I know, Card still considers himself a Democrat and probably a liberal, but he also remains intellectually honest. He used to perform a “Secular Humanist Revival” at large SF cons (I attended twice) in which he would start by asking “Do you believe?” and then point out that you shouldn’t answer “yes” until you’ve settled what it is you’re supposed to believe. I suspect he’s more of a Rip van Winkle liberal who can’t bring himself completely to admit what has happened to his side — but maybe, after he lost a gig writing for Superman because of homosexual militants who hate him for his dissent from liberal orthodoxy, he does finally see.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Yes. I’m okay with the training of kids, Timothy. And The Last Starfighter is certainly one instance (and one of my favorite “lite” sci-fi flicks), although Alex Rogan was hardly a kid. He was about 17 or 18.

      And I don’t mind the idea of seeing the world from a child’s perspective or to have children-centric stories. I was young once. And I liked the Harry Potter books as well as the Narnia series.

      But the way this movie handled it, it wasn’t at all plausible and was somewhat laughable.

      And maybe Card will smarten up one of these days and understand that “liberal” is now Leftist. These aren’t his friends. And we on the right aren’t his enemy…unless he persists in believing a bunch of stupid shit and refuses to second-guess some of his ingrained assumptions.

  2. Faba Calculo says:

    How much of this is the failings of liberalism vs. the failings of having 2 hours to do what the book was allowed days of reading to accomplish?

    But you’re right about this Ender never really seeming like any kind of savant. This is where reading the book first really helps the movie, as you wind up kind of filling in the blanks for the movie.

    Bottom line: I’ve long since come to see Hollywood (and most other movie makers) as America’s mentally disabled (OK, retarded) child: you learn to adjust your expectations and love it for what it CAN do, which, in terms of modern movies, means special effects. If you want a science fiction movie that comes remotely close to mixing even halfway character development with awesome special effects, go see Gravity.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      How much of this is the failings of liberalism vs. the failings of having 2 hours to do what the book was allowed days of reading to accomplish?

      It is indeed a real challenge to condense a book down into a movie. But that’s what good screenwriters are for. They should have used a smidgen of the CGI budget to pay for some good ones. But that is typical.

      And that’s why I mentioned that the movie comes across as a series of Kodachrome slides. They don’t tell the story as much as they often simply touch on elements in the book, in one-shot snapshots. Nothing is really developed.

      This is why I remain in absolute awe of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil who condensed the entire 1400 pages plus of Hugo’s Les Miserables down to a musical. And they captured the essence of it.

      They did not capture the essence of Ender’s Game with this movie. And with Card on board as one of the producers of the film, it’s odd that this should be so.

      And, as with you, I’ve lowered my sights in able to at least enjoy something from these types of movies, especially because they are now so ubiquitous. One can find bits and pieces to one’s liking. And one can, of course (as I almost always do), play Crow T. Robot or Tom Servo and slice and dice these turkeys as they do on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. I watched this movie with my older brother and I was just howling at some of the comments he was making. So, all in all, I was entertained, but not in the way, and for the reasons, that the producers of this film intended.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    For what it’s worth, I discussed this review briefly with some friends today at ConCave in Bowling Green. No one defended the overall quality of the movie, but they did say that it followed the book well (especially in terms of the training methods).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I was thinking when I read this, Tim, it’s more than okay to like a movie that I pan. I’m pretty used to the fact that what I like (which I consider high quality) is not the general taste of the public at large whose tastes have truly been “democratized.”

      Still, I don’t suspect that you hang out with dullards. 😉 It’s nice to hear that they weren’t raving about the quality of this movie. But as for how the book went vs. the movie, I don’t remember much about the book. But I do remember much of the first part of it being about the close relationship (almost of one mind, if I remember correctly) between Ender and his sister. I don’t really remember what this had to do with the overall plot though. Perhaps they were smart to snip it out.

      Much like in “The Hunger Games,” I was bored by most of the training (except for the zero-gee games). They might have been better served simply to do a montage and fast-forward through some of that. Or….actually give a sense that Ender was gaining the skills of leadership….something severely missing from this film.

      Also, there is little to no sense of the danger in regards to the Formics. All we see are those stereotypical “swarms” of ships in the video footage that this movie shows over and over and over again. There is no sense that these Formics are either dangerous or any kind of real species. They are, frankly, little more than a special effect. Nor is there much of a sense for a need for either revenge or (as was the case) pre-emption.

      This is one case where I might have started the movie showing the horror of that first assault by the bugs. Then fast-forward to fifty years later, or something like that. But there’s nothing in this movie that draws you in to care one way or the other. It’s just fancy special effects hung on a Pajama Boy.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Since “formic” relates to ants, one wonders how much Card was influenced by Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, in which the main enemy (the Bugs) looked more arachnid but had a very ant-like culture. Viewpoint character Juan Rico opined at one point that the Bugs showed how well communism could work with a species made for it (unlike humans).

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I hear that Heinlein’s novel is much better than the movie (the shower scene perhaps excepted). Starship Troopers, the movie, suffered (as so many movies do these days) from a superabundance of special effects and wafer-thin characters and situations. But, again, I hear from quite reliable sources that the book is excellent.

          Yes, I sort of got that “formic” related to the formic acid spewed by many species of ants. But if we are to look for a blueprint for human Communism, we’d be better to look further afield than the Formics who are too queen-centric and thus way too vulnerable. I posit that the Borg would be a much better and much more robust model. They have more of a distributed network. You can take out entire nodes and the collective continues on.

          But ideologically speaking, the ant hive is a good model for Leftists and Communists. There is no individuality in an ant colony. They are all literally disposable, each ant being basically a clone or sibling (I forget the relationships) of the queen. If one looks at this through a Dawkinsian selfish-gene lens, there is no need to care about any individual. They have no unique genetic individuality. Each ant is completely disposable.

          And thus this really tells you what the Left is all about and certainly why the disposability of abortion is such a natural fit for them. I haven’t read it, but Jonah Goldberg has an article titled Attacking Diversity of Thought which is headlined on the home page as “Intellectual Conformity.”

          And that’s what the Left wants. As Walter E. Williams once said, “diversity” means everyone looking different but thinking the same. And there is an appeal in this kind of conformity. Despite the “Just do it” and “No fear” slogans you seen strewn on shirts and bumper stickers of many “Progressive” yutes, humans tend to crave the safety of not having to think for themselves.

          This is completely consistent with the socialist state which not only says it will take care of us physically (retirement, health care, affordable housing, living wage, etc.) but they promise also (subtly put, but understood by those who seek it) that we won’t have to think for ourselves either.

          One need only look at the mainstream media to see that this is so.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            “Everything you think, do, and say/Is in the pill you took today.” — from “In the Year 2525”

            Incidentally, a nice guide to Heinlein’s juvenile novels (including Starship Troopers, can be found in Heinlein’s Children by Joseph Major (available from Advent Books). Of course, the fact that most of it first appeared in articles in FOSFAX may have something to do with my recommendation.

          • Pokey Possum says:

            “But ideologically speaking, the ant hive is a good model for Leftists and Communists. There is no individuality in an ant colony. They are all literally disposable,…there is no need to care about any individual.”

            Several years ago my husband and I were at a campground in the woods. There were large black ants, at least a half-inch long, using the power cord from the generator for access into our travel trailer. Wanting to live with the convenience of power, but not with ants, we wrapped the power cord in duct tape with the sticky side exposed. Unlike other creatures who can sense danger, or which learn from the unfortunate mistakes of others, these ants continued their endless procession up the power cord, mindlessly sacrificing themselves as living pavement for those who followed.

            The memory of their hideous march continues to disturb me, due to the vacant purpose of this ant flash-mob. It is much like the hideous march of the amoral portions of our society who trample over life and liberty in their relentless pursuit of “something other”. The ants that made it into the trailer unknowingly traded life in an abundant forest for death-by-ant bomb. Those mindless dolts and calculating traitors who undermine the moral foundation our country was built upon are trading dignity, freedom and the protective cover of God’s hand for human degradation, tyranny, and perhaps judgement of biblical proportion.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Yikes. What an apt analogy for Communism. Good story.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Ants make a good analogy for totalitarians of all stripes. T. H. White used them as a Nazi metaphor in his Arthur series (originally in The Book of Merlyn, later placed in The Sword in the Stone when the first 4 volumes were combined together as The Once and Future King).

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