Ender’s Game

I wrestled over this decision for a long time but I finally did go see Ender’s Game.  Let me preface this by saying that I disagree with Orson Scott Card on every stance he has taken regarding the rights of the LGBT community.  I find his musings about “urban gangs” to be not so very veiled racism, and it saddens me to see a man who has a platform using it to be so divisive and hateful.  Therefore I have not provided a link to Card’s website as I have with other folks in this post.  I don’t want to increase his readership.

I also reached the decision to attend after a long and thoughtful conversation with David Gerrold at a summer barbecue at Len Wein and Christine Valalda’s home back in July.  I didn’t want to do anything that might have shown support to Card’s offensive homophobic writings.  David pointed out that the amount of money Card was likely to receive was very small, and that if the movie failed we punished a lot of people who had nothing to do with Card’s positions.  It takes hundreds of people to make a movie.  They’re proud of the work they do and shouldn’t be punished because of the attitudes of the author of the underlying material.  He also said he thought this movie’s time had passed.  If it had been made in the 1990’s it would have had more relevance.  I later learned that Card received a flat fee for the rights to the book, and I realized that nothing I did would affect the inevitable uptick in the sales of his book.  I also realized it’s nomination season which meant that I, as a WGA member,  could screen this film.  I was also interested because years ago someone at Warner’s had asked how I would have approached adapting the book, and I was curious to see if the ultimate adaptation went in the direction I had contemplated.  (It didn’t, but more on that later.)

The writer and director wisely began by up-aging Ender.  Have a six or seven year old as your protagonist was a non-starter.  It’s rare to find a terrific kid actor — think Haley Joel Osment versus that kid who started in The Phantom Menace — now try to imagine an entire Battle School filled with 6 and 7 year old child actors.  It wouldn’t have been pretty.  I’m partial to Harrison Ford and thought he did a nice job as Colonel Graff, but I think the adapters missed the point with that characterm and he could have been deepened into a more interesting character.  This was fundamentally a book about child abuse, but in the film it seemed to become a movie about bullying and how to handle it.

As I write I find I can’t work up much passion about this movie, and I think it’s because David was right — It’s a story who’s time has passed.  Video games dominate our culture so the “shocking” ending that it wasn’t actually a game and that Ender has committed Xenocide has little punch in this day and age.  I did like the fact that the famous warrior who drove back the aliens years before has a line of dialogue that nods toward the sequel to Ender’s Game — Speaker for the Dead which for my money is the more powerful and meaningful book.

I watched the movie with my friend Brett who had never read the books, and we both had a sense of discontent about the film.  It wasn’t bad, it was just unsatisfying.  When I told him a bit about Speaker for the Dead we both realized that this movie was less of a fully realized film and more of a very long first act.  The interesting story is what happens after Ender goes wandering through the galaxy with an alien queen in his backpack.

So here’s how I would have adapted the film.  I don’t think the interesting characters are the kids.  I think the interesting characters are the adults, particularly Colonel Graff.  The adults knew what they were doing.  How they were essentially torturing kids to turn them into warriors which by any definition is a war crime.  How they were plotting the annihilation of an entire alien species using these children’s innocence and trust in the grownups in their lives.  If you’re not a psychopath or a sociopath that has to do something to a person.  In the book when Graff comes to Ender’s house he urges the boy “not to come” to Battle School.  It’s that flash of humanity, in a sense a man begging this boy to save the man from himself that I found interesting and powerful.  I wanted Graff’s story of the man who destroys his soul, and the lives of the children under his care to save his world.

7 Responses to Ender’s Game

  • Andy Greenhouse says:

    Once again, you’ve been able to put words to feelings I had when I saw this film. I was largely bored with most of it. I was not shocked nor impressed with the ending in any way.

    I actually got up and went outside for a smoke at one point. That is all.

  • Dash McCool says:

    Orson Scott Card said that if the Equal Rights Act is passed and women are made equal to men, we should take up arms and overthrow the federal government. If some people have to die, so be it. He also said that women should be harassed on the street and randomly thrown in jail, so that they learn their place.

    Except instead of “women” he said “gays.” (He really said both of those things.)

    All those other people you’re worried about punishing by not going to see the movie? The gaffers and drivers and best boys? They already got paid. (And not very much, at that.) The only people you’re “hurting” by not seeing Ender’s Game is the studio and Card himself, who gets a cut of the box office. (That last-minute press release notwithstanding: it was full of complete fabrications according to people in the know.)

    Card deserves to be punished for being a hateful human who is advocating assault and murder because of his narrow-minded religious intolerance. The studio needs to be sent a message that they should choose more wisely in the future who they work with.

    The movie flopping was a good thing. Card’s books topping all of the bestseller lists because of its high profile, not so much. He’s just going to funnel that money into hate groups advocating the murder of human beings. (He actually does that. Look it up.)

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    I understand, Dash. I know Card was on the board of NOM (National Organization for Marriage). HIs tithes to the church went into California to fight marriage equality. He is not a good man (though I’m sure in his universe he thinks he is a very good man, fighting evil. Villains never think they are villains they think they are the heroes in their own stories.) My sources inside Lionsgate make it clear that Card was paid a flat fee. Were the sales of his books going to spike after the movie was released? Absolutely, and there was no way to affect that or keep it from happening.

    David Gerrold’s position made sense to me. Both David and I have worked in Hollywood for a long time. I think Lionsgate had no idea about Card’s unsavory and bigoted views. The science fiction community knew and that’s why we don’t see much of Card at conventions any longer, but we are a rather small and insular slice of society. I have a feeling that it wasn’t until the studio had dropped a lot of money that they realized they had this problem and they were appalled. Studio’s don’t exist in a vacuum. They are also made up of people trying to create entertainment (and if we’re lucky) art. I’m not opposed to boycotts — I don’t go to Chick Fillet or Carl’s Junior or Papa John’s or WalMart, but their management is aggressively anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-worker. Lionsgate and the people who make up that studio are not, as a matter of principle, anti-LGBT. They are in fact supports of the rights of LGBT people. Ultimately I decided we were aiming at the wrong target.

    The movie was deeply average, didn’t do well at the box office so I think Card’s fifteen minutes are very much past. He is reduced to writing inferior rip offs of his most famous and popular work, and the arc of the universe is bending toward justice, and Card and his bigoted attitudes will be left among the other hateful ruins in the dustbin of history.

  • James says:

    I’m mentioning this out of curiosity rather than to reignite this debate, but I noticed during the movie that Card was listed as a producer on the film. Not sure if this is the case, but it may indicate he had more connection with this particular product than simply receiving a flat fee many, many years ago. That said, the main issue is still that the movie is incredibly mediocre. None of the movements between acts (Earth -> Battle School, Battle School -> Command School, etc.) felt earned like they did in the book. Earned in horrible, disturbing, abusive ways, but earned nonetheless.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    The writer of the underlying material is always given a courtesy “producer” title. Most of the producers listed on a project don’t have any involvement. He might have gotten a flat payment, but that also might have been included in the flat deal he had years before.

    I still think the more interesting story was about the adults. That would have been a big change from the focus of the book, but ultimately more satisfying. They choose to play Graff as a warmongering devil, and I didn’t read him that way in the book. I read him as a man tormented by what he is going to this children and will ultimately do to the aliens.

  • Neville Ross says:

    As I said in a recent reply to you, I think that there are other, better novels to adapt than Ender’s Game; this movie’s just fitting into the alien invasion trope that the film industry likes too much, anyway.

    Another reason not to see this movie for me was the fact that Ender & Co. are nothing but child soldiers. One would think that Card had researched this before writing it, but he didn’t, and the novels/aborted movie series sound like nothing but a paean to doing this. This is reprehensible to me, and I won’t really countenance it, ever.

    Another thing about the killing that Ender & Co. have to do is the fact that it’s assumed (by Card and the adults in the novel) that only kids play video games. ADULTS play them too, and are the majority buyers of them (unless my faculties were failing me and all of the people at the Xbox One launch here in Toronto were kids allowed to stay up past their bed time just to buy this system from Future Shop and Best Buy.) Would it have not been better for the world government to find and train adults to do this (and for Card to use something like mecha, as shown in the novel version of Starship Troopers and the movie Pacific Rim) instead of having children do this?

    But more than this for me is that the mission isn’t under the control of the kid protagonist, but directed by the adults, taking away what little agency they may have to shape their lives the way they want to (yes, I know that kids don’t have a lot, but…) In most fiction with kids at the center, a boy or girl chooses to do something to start out on their own, fight the bad guy or gal, avenge the death of an entire family, etc. In Ender’s Game, this is forced onto the main protagonist, although he doesn’t know it yet, and it’s made to feel natural to him. So basically, a boy becomes a master genocidist. How amazing.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      I’ve always thought that at it’s heart ENDER’S GAME is a book about child abuse, and if I had been asked to adapt the book I would have made it about the adults, and the terrible toll it is taking on the men and women directing this hideous effort. In the book Colonel Graff is a decent man who tries to keep Ender from coming to Battle School. They played him as a jingoistic asshole in the movie and to my mind missed the point.

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