Review: “Ender’s Game”

Ender's Game the movieI read Ender’s Game, a novel written by Orson Scott Card, some years ago. It’s the only thing written by Card that I really liked. So giving Ender’s Game the movie a thumbs up … or the bird … depends, in part, on whether it respects the best aspects of the original story. Exploiting Ender’s brilliance to save the human race from an armada of evil bugs is pretty much the center of the story’s structure. But what about the personal stuff, like Ender fighting his way through Battle School against older kids who literally wanted to kill him? Or the day-to-day chess matches between Ender, the other boys, and Graff? These were big parts of the story that are ripe for the cutting room floor. There’s also the risk that it could be twisted into a shitty action flick or something starring Van Damme as the Formic Queen.

So was Ender’s Game everything it could be, or more like Starship Troopers starring Harrison Ford? Click on the button to find out.

I cannot give Ender’s Game a full 10 out of 10. The movie cut too deeply into the personal stuff, including Ender’s day-to-day stuggles with the other kids at Battle School (though we all know a lot of this part of the story had to go). The movie was still pretty good, but it felt a little rushed somehow. Probably because I had already read the book and knew how much was missing. I really think it would have been better as a high-budget TV mini series. Good news! Rumor has it that someone wants to turn it into an actual TV show. If that happens, I’ll give it a chance to suck or not suck. (No whore jokes, please. Respect!) All in all, Ender’s Game the movie was still worth watching.

If you want to know a little more about the differences and some of the more interesting story elements that the movie cut out, keep reading.

Things That Were Cut Out

Novel of Ender's Game

Didn’t know they had “director’s cuts” for authors, did you?

Ender is the nickname of a boy named Andrew Wiggin. In the movie, he’s played by Asa Butterfield and looks like he could be in his early teens. I got the sense that Ender’s training only took a period of months in the film. In the book, Ender was just 6 when he got called to Battle School and the whole story took place over a period of years before he took command of the fleet.

One thing in the Author’s Definitive Edition (not sure if it was in the original novella or not) was how the whole war began due to a misunderstanding. The “Buggers” (also called Formics depending on which version of the book you read) are nothing like us. Most of them are controlled telepathically by a queen and have no free will of their own. I remember one part – I think it was footage from when the Buggers first encountered a human space vessel – they (the Buggers) began dissecting the crew while the humans were still alive. (!!) The whole thing was recorded by the ship’s monitors for Ender to see many years later. Eventually, we are told that the alien Buggers had no idea that humans could feel pain or suffer because they assumed that the crew were just puppets, not unlike the Buggers themselves. Meanwhile, the humans took this whole dissection thing rather personally and saw the Buggers as an enemy ever after.

This misunderstanding – and the fact that the Buggers were basically under telepathic/radio control – was never brought up in the movie that I can recall. They also never mentioned the fact that the Buggers weren’t planning another attack on Earth. The aliens had learned from their mistake and realized that the war was partially their fault, but had no way of communicating with us about it. They could neither speak nor write. So humans tried to exterminate their entire species with a series of sneak attacks (which I’ll explain below). Turns out it was all for nothing.

The IF basically pretended that another attack was imminent, but really planned to avert another war by committing genocide against the Buggers (a theme that would appear in many of Card’s later Ender books). Basically, the IF built the biggest fleet it could, then immediately sent those ships out in a coordinated series of strikes against all the alien worlds. This process began many years ago and the fleet was therefore locked into a predetermined strategy. It was Ender’s job to direct the individual battles, in real time, via a device called the ansible which was only briefly mentioned in the movie. The ansible allows for instantaneous communication over galaxy-spanning distances. This, and the Little Doctor (missiles that can cause a chain reaction of explosions that are ever expanding) allowed the humans to defeat the more powerful Formics.

Some human ships were more advanced than others depending on when they had been built. So, in the novel, the final battle was fought by the very oldest – and least advanced – ships of the fleet. Ender and his team were on the verge of exhaustion and defeat when he came up with the idea to use the Little Doctor to simply blow up the entire planet and take out the alien fleet before the Buggers could win. He was actually breaking a rule against such a strategy in the hope that the military would kick him out of the program altogether. (SPOILER: Ender doesn’t know that the final simulator battles are, in fact, the real thing.)

Unbeknownst to most people, the IF had literally sent out its entire fleet in a huge gamble. If even one Bugger world had survived, humanity would have been defenseless against retaliation. There were literally no ships left to defend Earth or its colonies from counterattack.

There were other points of interest. Card, like other authors, also wrote about something very much like our internet, only Ender’s Game was written long before the web resembled the thing it is today. Also, the only thing holding the planet together was the threat of war. As soon as Ender defeated the Formics, nations began turning on one another again.

What About the Other Ender Books?

Scene from Ender's Game

No one told Harrison Ford that there was a camera in the officer’s lavatory. Listen carefully as he squeaks one out.

Don’t go thinking that the other books in the Ender series are anything like this one. They weren’t. There was one about the aftermath of Ender’s Game, wherein Ender – now an adult – is remembered as “the Xenocide” because bleeding heart liberals can be like that sometimes, apparently. (Even I, an evil liberal, realize that this does happen.) Then the next book was about a bunch of alien pigs who kill people because they think it will help them reproduce or some shit. Damn you, Babe! If only you weren’t so … delicious ….

Read the rest of the Ender series at your peril is what I’m saying.

So watch the movie. And read the book knowing that all it’s sequels and sidequels are, in my opinion, not even suitable for reading while you’re on the can. Enjoy! Let’s just hope a TV series gets made. Or that Card finally realizes that we aren’t interested in his anti-gay tirades. Fingers crossed!

About The Atheist Geek

The Atheist Geek is a former Jehovah’s Witness turned secular humanist. He’s a lifelong sci-fi geek and a writer wannabe.

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