By The Book: Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game has been surrounded by controversy. The book was rallied against for its support of violence and the movie was boycotted because Orson Scott Card is anti-homosexual. These controversies take away from a deep and provocative story that looks at politics, the military, and our future.Ender's_game_cover_ISBN_0312932081

The book is an in-depth look at the future after an alien war with the Buggers. Earth came together to create an army that will fight the future of the alien threat: training young children who use their intuition and lack of biases to fight these life forms. The book details Ender’s rise to military fame and his emotional breakdown from the stresses place on him. The book became keystone reading for several military groups, and the Ender franchise took off. The movie follows the same plot changing minor points.

Even though director/writer Gavin Hood only makes minimal changes, he manages to alter the tone and change the purpose behind certain plot points. Part of this comes from the fact that the movie isn’t able to get into Ender’s head like it did in the books and Hood often fails in portraying it in the storyline.  For example, Ender’s inner struggle with being a leader and the advanced pace of his training is downplayed and his explosion at the end of the movie seems out of place. In fact, the movie makes it seem like Bonzo’s death is the only reason he quit before he enters Command School.

To centralize the story, characters are given more screen time. Petra’s role in Ender’s life is increased and given more importance than in the book. And while it incorporated more of Bean, it change the characters time line as well as down played how smart, arrogant the character actually is. The movie demonizes the bad guys while making the good guys perfect saints. And none of the children are young enough. While this might be practical for filming, it really takes the enormity of the original story away.

tumblr_mk8d1vkdYW1rri3f0o1_1280This leads to the biggest issue with the movie. No one should have worked about anti-homosexual themes or any other political commentary. The movie is actually overly PC. Characters have changed to reflecting minority and women’s roles which in interesting because the books actually have more variety of ethnicities and gender than the movie did. There is no reference to the Bugger War; everyone just calls them Formics. This small change loses a lot of what Card was saying about humans and outsiders. Using slang for enemies is typical and part of the criticism included in the original novel. Though we see it start to change in Ender’s Shadow (chronologically parallel but written some time after the original), this is a reflection of how PC was adapting into the world and it has now completely enticed the movie.

The biggest change was the removal of politics from the film. Oh, you say, but there was so much politics with Graff and the military! That is nothing compared to the Ender Saga of books. Enders siblings are very important player in the world. Their actions and political dialogues change how regular people see the world and it sons reaches to the government. Their actions actually decide Ender’s fate. But you won’t see much of Peter or Valentine as Hood morphs the ending to come to a staggering halt instead of following into another tale.

Ender’s Game is a great science fiction movie.  The special effects are beautiful and the Battle Room lives up to expectations. Asa Buttersfield does well as the boy genius Ender, and Harrison Ford is great as Graff. But like most adaptations it can’t hit the depth and thought provocation of the novel.

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Divergent: On the Screen and By the Book

On the Screen

 

Divergent is actually a pretty good movie. It’s much better than the YA adaptions Beautiful Creatures and City of Bones. Though it doesn’t live up to the caliber of The Hunger Games, it has its strengths in its own rights. As far as being a good adaptation, the movie does pretty well till it spins out of control in the end changing the last confrontation significantly.

Divergent, like many Young Adult based plot, takes place in a dystopian future. To keep the peace the population is divided into five factions each one elevating one characteristic above any other. Tris was born in Abnegation and must focus on other’s needs before her own. But citizens aren’t forced to stay in their birth faction. As their coming of age ritual, each teenager goes through an assessment where they find out what faction they should be but they are free to choose any of the five. Tris’ results are mixed which is rare and dangerous as it challenges the fragile peace set up by the leaders. Tris chooses a new life where she has to prove she can be dauntless instead of homeless while stumbling into a government conspiracy that will threaten her home faction as well as the whole city.

Divergent is fast paced, keeping viewers engaged in the action. Neither the viewers nor Tris have time to adjust to the dark Dauntless compound. Training begins immediately and romance blooms. The movie is mainly focused on the action with the romance sprinkled in ensuring the relationship between Tris and Four does not over power the story.

Four is played marvelously by Theo James. It is he and Kate Winslet who give the most powerful performances leaving the rest of the cast to be perfectly acceptable but not strong. Before seeing the movies, I had read lots of reviews touting how wonderful James was, but I thought no one could live up to that hype. Though at first glance readers will think he’s not Four, as soon as he opens his mouth, we are convinced. James manages to easily blend the emotional complexity Four manifests. His fearlessness, his kindness, his intelligence all blend together making Four easily fit in a variety of factions. Winslet, on the other hand, is smart and shrewd making Jeanine Mathews, the Euridite’s leader, inherently conniving. From the first time she interacts with Tris, the viewer knows something is not right with this woman. Winslet’s performance lacks innocence and you would never confuse her for raise to fame character Rose.

The movie is thrilling and the music is perfect. Ellie Goulding’s haunting chords match perfectly with what is going through Tris’ head putting icing on the cake. But how does it stake up as adaptation to the book? Keep reading below the pictures for By the Book and spoilers abound.

By the Book

As with most adaptations, there are some casting issues. Jai Courtney’s casting as Eric is horrific and the costume and make-up department don’t even attempt to make him look like the book Eric. (Besides why do people keep thinking he can act?) Shailene Woodley did well with Tris but she isn’t the Tris I saw in my head. My Tris was am ordinary person. She wasn’t glamorous but she had a spirit that emanated from her at every turn. Part of the problem isn’t Woodley’s fault. In an effort to simplify a very complex book, the script cuts down on Tris’ emotional struggles. She doesn’t just choose Dauntless because she thinks the enemy won’t find her. It’s about who she is and the conflict she feels within herself and with leaving her loved ones. This takes the edge off Tris making her character relatable. We all struggle to find ourselves.

The movie falls for one of the fatal mistakes made by City of Boones: emotional and complex issues are so minimized that they should have been left out because they don’t make since. It City of Bone sit was the fact Alec is gay; for Divergent its Al’s suicide. The movie spends about four minutes on his story. As non-dauntless is under lots of pressure to not become factionless, but his plight only comes out with the attack on Tris. The movie implies that he killed himself just because of the attack. But that isn’t the case. Al is an example of breaking under the stress and how not everyone can break out of their faction. But the movie never gets this thoughtful or reflective.

On the flip side the movie makes changes that make no sense. These span from minuscule facts (they drink the elixir in the school instead of getting a shot) to major plot points. As a reader the ending was atrocious. To give Winselt more screen time, the final confrontation comes between Matthews, Tris and Four. Eric is summarily dismissed before ever reaching the Dauntless compound. Tris must attack Matthews with wit and violence creating a whole new scenario that will unbalance the relationship that the two had in further books.

Until the end, the adaptation isn’t bad but fans come out with a bad taste in their mouths–especially since the majority of the film was well done and entertaining.