Thursday, November 21, 2013

Two Cents is Too Much: Ender's Game

It's about time I reviewed something again! Here comes Ender's Game, only the most celebrated scifi book in forever (citation needed). If you haven't read the book*, fair warning: there's a ton of spoilers below the jump. Even if you saw the movie but didn't read the book, there are still spoilers.

* And if you haven't read the book, go read it. Now. It's the only book I've bought multiple copies of solely to loan out to people to read. All of my copies are out at the moment, so you'll have to ask someone else. 

I wish I got the Federal Network with my cable package.
But before I get into the review, I wanted to unveil my new plan for reviewing things. I've been trying to find a way to encapsulate two separate axes of rating. The first is hype vs. reality, expectations vs. inevitable disappointment. The proto-idea had been bouncing around in my head for a while when I finally read the Movie Plus-Minus* post by Joe Posnanski. The idea is that we as humans judge things not by their absolute value, but rather their value relative to our own expectations. You know you've had that thought; you were so excited to eat that burger, watch that movie, read that book, that when you finally eat/watched/read it, the burger/movie/book was unable to live up to your expectations. And you've had the converse as well; picking up something you expect to be mediocre at best, only to be blown away.

* Posnanski** took the name "Plus-Minus" straight from the Fielding Bible, which makes sense, as he writes a sports blog. I prefer to call it the "Hype-O-Tron". 

** Whenever you see an asterisk followed by an italicized comment on this blog, it's a Posterisk, and I totally stole it from him. The guy is brilliant, if not for his sports writing, then for his writing style in general.

The other axis is quality vs. enjoyment. Sometimes we really enjoy terrible things. Other times, we look at world class works of art and say, "Eh, I'd rather clip my toenails" (I'm looking at you, Citizen Kane). For example, Starship Troopers is not a quality movie*. The acting is sub par, parts of the plot make no sense, and the execution of all the actors (save NPH) it pitiful. Yet I can watch that movie anytime. It's definitely a comfort movie for me.

* If you get a chance, read the book. It's so much better than the movie in terms of quality, yet it's still eminently enjoyable. 

Two axes, you say? Sounds like a job for a graph!

No one ever accused me of being good at graphics.
So you can see, Starship Troopers was far lower quality than I expected, but I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would.

Now, on to Ender's Game (after the jump, you know, to hide them spoilers).

Ender's Game the Movie was always an impossible task. How could a movie measure up to such an iconic book? How could a movie forgive ruining my mental images of all the characters and places? On top of that, Orson Scott Card (the author) had turned down producer after producer, stating that he would not compromise his artistic vision. The movie had no chance of living up to the book. And that's the brilliance of it. The movie doesn't try to live up to anything; it stands alone*.

* My coworker reviewed the movie without having read the book, and I think her review speaks well to this point.

Going in to the movie, I knew I had to lower my expectations. They couldn't include everything from the book in the movie; it's just not possible. They're going to have cut something that is beloved to me, and I'm going to be pissed as all hell. So I forced myself to have the lowest expectations; I literally expected to hate it. That said, I knew that if Card allowed the movie be made, it would be a well-executed quality movie. The trailers looked good as well, so I knew they had worked hard on it (and they had a $110M budget, which definitely gets you places).

I was pleased they hit most of the set pieces I wanted: the fight with Stetson, the launch, the fight with Bonzo, "enemy's gate is down", the mind game, and the final battle. The movie felt rushed, which I suppose was inevitable, given the amount of plot they wanted to cover. But the rushed feeling seemed appropriate to the overall story, so it worked out. The battle room looked sweet; I don't know what I imagined it would look like on screen, but it worked. And I thought the way they visualized the final battles was really cool. And, as I expected, the execution by the actors was solid. I particularly liked Harrison Ford's take on Graff, even though it differed somewhat from the book.
Prepare for epic high five!

There were a few things that irked me, even given my low expectations. When Bean turned to Ender in the final battle and deliberately said, "Ender, the enemy's gate is down!" it was so awkward. It's like Bean knew what to do, but he wanted Ender to figure it out himself. The book's version, where Bean says it as a joke*, and it comes off as much more authentic. I know that Demosthenes and Locke didn't really fit in the movie, but I did find their absence noticeable. Also, and I know this is super minor, but the potions in the mind game weren't always green and bubbly; they were different each time, dammit!

* Yes, I read Ender's Shadow (and all books in both storylines). But you don't know any of that stuff in this story yet.

All in all, it wasn't a wasted $11.50 (jeez, movies are expensive) and 2 hours.

I wasn't sure how to represent zero till I realized that zero would do fine.
So, there you have it. The movie isn't likely to make back its $110M budget, so this is likely the first and only Ender's story to make it to the big screen. If you've not read the book, this movie is a good way to get introduced the universe; if you find yourself wanting more, grab the book. That holds true for kids as well; I'd highly recommend showing your kids this movie.

The enemy's gate is down.

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