Tuesday, November 19

No More Games: A Movie Review

I know this isn’t a sci-fi movie review blog, but since I’m not only the founder of this bloggular empire, but also the sole author, I get to choose what goes up on the site each day.  It’s like I’m holding the remote control…as long as you decide to keep reading.
 
In the immortal words of He-Man: I. Have. The Power.
 
I’m a fan of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game novel from way back.  When Mandy and I met in 1999 she was getting ready to leave on her senior trip (Hey! I was only 26 at the time!) and mentioned she was looking for a book to take.  I offered to let her borrow (not have!) Ender’s Game and she said she was interested.
 
The truth was she was interested in me and my flowing locks, but she took the book to sink the hook.  She had finished the book before she returned from her trip and loved it.  That made me happy because it was my favorite book of all time.
 
Of course she also followed me into a cave once while unbeknownst to me suffering from crippling claustrophobia.   She has amazing willpower when she wants something.
 
Anyway, so Ender’s Game is “our book” like Dreams by the Cranberries is “our song.”  In case you care, we also have “our rock climb” (Dirty Rastafarian Scoundrels) and “our road trip” (’99 Hound Ears Bouldering Comp, NC).
 
As long as I’ve had access to the internet I’ve known of a plan to adapt my most beloved novel into a movie.  And since the author has been involved all along and has nixed the project more than once I assumed the final result would be of the highest quality.  Creative control and all…
 
A few months ago I suggested that my ten year old son, who is a prolific reader in his own right, start reading the book in preparation for the upcoming movie.  Mandy and I were both excited to see it and wanted Boone to share in the experience.  So he started reading, but as of Sunday afternoon when he and I went to see the movie (Mandy opted not to go for dramatic reasons) he hadn’t finished the book.  And to him I profusely apologized on the drive home.
 
Despite a stellar cast the acting was dry.  Harrison Ford as Graff?!  Han Solo lives!  Sir Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham?! AHHHH!!! My brain!  Asa Butterfield as Ender?!  Who’s Asa Butterfield?  Anyway…ahhhh!!!  Viola Davis!  Hailee Steinfeld!  Abigail Bresilin!  A bunch of unknowns!  My expectations were quickly dashed though.
 
I think the only decent acting jobs in the whole film were by Davis and (maybe) Kingsley.  I was really disappointed in Ford, and Butterfield’s portrayal of Ender was just dead in the water.  It didn’t help that he is as tall as the adult actors in the movie.  Really?  Ender was supposed to be between 6 and 8 during the events of the story.  This kid is ready to drive a car.  Or fly a plane.
 
And I’ve heard people defend the decision to cast such old children that younger children couldn’t pull off the characters.  I don’t think the older actors pulled if off so well; so why couldn’t we have given the young’uns a chance?
 
Abandon hope for no spoilers, all ye who enter here:
 
The shower fight scene between Ender and Bonzo Madrid was a travesty.  Yes, in the book Ender turned up the hot water and soaped himself up to be slippery and give himself an edge in his fight with the older, bigger, and crazed Bonzo.  But since they filmed the coup de grace with tall and lanky Ender grabbing a handhold above him and kicking him in the chest and sending a much smaller Bonzo (shoot the casting director!) across the room where he hit his head on the edge of the shower—instead of the way it played out in the book with Bonzo wrapping his arms around Ender from behind and Ender launching himself upward slamming Bonzo’s nose into his cranium—there was really no reason to have Asa Butterfield give a token swipe with a bar of soap just before the fight begins.  
 
That soap swipe was like a slap in the face for people like me who think movies should sort of be true to their source material.  Yeah, Ender soaped himself up, but in our movie it was only to get clean.
 
The whole film felt rushed.  Bean was on the same launch as Ender.  Ender’s launch group went straight into the Battle Room.  Ender was placed in Salamander Army right away.  Then after a single battle he was made commander of Dragon Army by a very open and forthcoming Graff.  Dragon Army’s first battle was against two other armies, and then after a whirlwind vacation to earth to visit Valentine Ender was shipped off to Command School (near the bugger homeworld!) to complete his training.
 
There are a lot of things that are said after the fact that don’t get developed as the movie progresses.  If you’ve read the book you know what’s going on, but if you haven’t it would be hard to catch the nuances of the story that make it so compelling.  
 
As Ender is exiting the shuttle upon arriving at Battle School from Earth he blandly accuses Graff of making the other launchies hate him, but during the scene he refers to there is little that occurs that would make you think Graff did anything of the sort.
 
Ender’s complicated relationship with Bernard is completely glossed over, but then referenced at one point, and is even the subject of what appears to be a key scene, but unless you have the background knowledge of the book there is absolutely no way you could know what is going on in the scene.  And when Bernard asks Ender why he’s in Dragon Army because “you hate me” again, there has been no evidence to that point that Ender hates Bernard, so we’re (the unsuspecting viewers) left scratching our heads.  Of course the acting by “Bernard” is also bland and unconvincing.  
 
My final take on the film is that after the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit ordeals I should have known better than to be excited about a film adaptation of a book that I really do enjoy.  
 
I just can’t recommend this film.  Its major redeeming quality is the visual rendering of Ender’s world, but I’ve said famously for years and years that if the only thing you can say about a movie is that it has great special effects then it’s just not a great movie.  The scenes are fantastic, but I can’t even say the actual cinematography is good.  There were times when it seemed as if you were just looking at a scaled down set and not a real world.  
 
Even the battle scenes between the Terrans and Buggers in earth’s atmosphere didn’t seem terribly novel.  The scene was like a mishmash of the Independence Day battle scene with the Matrix machine swarm defending the Romulan mining ship from the 2009 Star Trek film.
 
The best visual representations in the film were the Battle Room scenes, of which there weren’t enough, and the final battle scene where the Little Doctor ship is surrounded by the drones and they begin swirling to make a “rifle barrel” through the Bugger ships so the device can fire.
 
I've read reviews touting the soundtrack as "award-winning" as well, but to me it sounded like a movie full of reused tracks.  It all sounded familiar, and it seemed at times like the dramatic music was not relevant during the scene it was being played over.
 
With film efforts like this I feel the filmmakers are just lazy in their storytelling.  The book was a phenomenal success so they only have to create a visually stunning world to consider themselves successful, instead of owning the story and telling it in their own way.  That’s not what happened with this film.  It was lazy storytelling.  
 
They must think that since the author has already set the scenes and developed the characters they don’t have to do that themselves and can save time, energy and money by slapping them up ready-made onto the screen.  It’s insulting to their entire audience, both those who were already fans, and to those who are experiencing the story for the first time.
 
I was unimpressed.  I would say the book was unmakeable as a film; that it just can't be translated...but I don't believe that.  I think it was just done poorly.  And to all those making excuses for the filmmakers: stop it.  They just didn't give it the energy and attention it deserved.  They were looking for the quick buck.
 
And as a caveat before I close: if you feel the need to jump on my comment section and attack me for my opinion don’t bother.  This is my space on the back alley wall of the internet and I will defend its integrity with tenacity.  If you believe the movie version of Ender’s Game is Oscar-worthy then I feel bad that you’ve fallen victim to modern Hollywood’s dumbing down of the stories they’re trying to profit from these days.
 
For my time and money I expect a little more out of the art I experience.  I’m not a mindless moviegoer that just wants some digital eye candy to occupy my time so I don’t have to be bored on a Sunday afternoon.  I’m looking for a little more out of the experience than that.

ADDENDUM

From a parental standpoint I was glad to see that despite the film's rating of PG-13 the filmmakers didn't feel the need to include a lot of questionable language.  I was expecting the violence from the book.  It was a key part of the plot, but they also held back and didn't make it more graphic than it needed to be.  Oddly, I have to say I applaud the filmmakers for the movie's parent-friendliness.  And that just makes me more annoyed at the poor quality of the storytelling.

2 comments:

  1. I take exception to your review! I thought the Lord of the Rings movies were much better than the books (which I tried to like, but hated hated hated). The Hobbit? Well that was totally a money grab. How you turn that book into 3 movies is beyond me.

    I am dreading the day they make Lord Foul's Bane into a movie.

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    Replies
    1. See, and I loved the LOTR books. I didn't hate the movies exactly, but they added things that changed the character of the characters and the meaning of the story. I just couldn't abide some of the pointless changes.

      I know, I know, I know...there have to be some changes to adapt a book to film, but considering Peter Jackson and crew filmed like 800 hours of footage that was eventually released on 13 different version of boxed DVD sets I don't see why they couldn't have been more true to Tolkien's story.

      I've been fairly pleased with the Hobbit so far, but again, they add things that are unnecessary to make more money. I don't get it. Well, I understand the greed, I just don't understand why people would compromise art for the hollowness of money.

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