Space Balls (Or Lack Thereof)

Hello, Bound and Gagged readers! I will be your guest poster this week and have I got a treat for you! You see, I just got back from watching the movie Ender’s Game, and I have a very severe thebookisbetterthanthemovie rant to share. I cannot say for certain that I believe elements of the book were censored due to being objectionable, but I can say for certain that the movie took out a lot of things that make Ender’s Game a potential target for censorship and the world has been made poorer for it. Spoilers and profanity ahead, be forewarned!

The book Ender’s Game is the tale of a very young child being trained to lead a war against alien invaders. The military knows that they only have a few years before the next invasion occurs, and that Ender is the exact blend of intelligence, ruthlessness, and compassion they have been searching for since the last invasion.

The book chronicles all of the physical, psychological, and mental abuse Ender is put through in the name of saving humanity. Ender struggles with his conscience as he is continually attacked and forced to defend himself with violence.

The movie of Ender’s Game is just like every other movie about kids: Ender goes through school, does well in classes, overcomes bullies, and makes friends. Sure, there is that part towards the end where (spoiler alert) Ender accidentally commits genocide, but the movie even found a way to make that shock less shocking.

It appears that Hollywood, in its infinite cowardice, has decided to severely soften every punch that Ender’s Game ever threw. Part of it was due to time constraints, and I will try very hard to not get too nitpicky over those changes, but at some point someone in Hollywood must have said the words “hey, you know that really gritty, harsh sci-fi book that leaves everyone with a sense of soul-crushing catharsis? What if we took all of the bad stuff out of it?”

I forgive Hollywood for not using 5-year-old actors and settling for early-puberty-aged kids. That was a necessary call for production reasons. I do not forgive them for wasting precious screentime trying to build up a romance subplot between Ender and Petra. Had they skipped this plotline they would have kept the kids feeling younger, and therefore the atrocities they experience and commit would hit harder. A thirteen-year-old with a girlfriend beats up a bully? Pfft, whatever, that crap happens all the time. A six-year-old fights so viciously he accidentally kills a bully? That is far more disturbing, and “disturbing” is exactly what this story is supposed to be.

Speaking of accidentally killing bullies, I am about to start swearing profusely on this topic. If you don’t like profanity just skip this next paragraph:

This fucking movie never fucking admitted that Ender fucking killed Bonzo. They even fucking went through the trouble of designing a fucking set for a fucking hospital room so they could fucking tell us “don’t worry, he is going back to earth to recover.” That is not what fucking happened, and I don’t fucking appreciate that they decided to treat the audience like fucking children that need their fucking hands held. The audience is supposed to be disturbed by a supposedly moral character being so ruthless and exhausted that he is capable of manslaughter. Instead we got coddled. Fuck you, you fucking pussies for not having the fucking balls to do this shit right.

Perhaps the reason the movie lied to us about Bonzo’s survival is because they knew they were incapable of doing an adequate job showing how stressful battle school was for Ender, and therefore it would be harder to forgive him for being so ruthless. Harrison Ford told us, and even showed us a little, that isolating Ender was a crucial part of his training. They showed briefly that the battles were stacked against the Dragon Army so as to better train Ender for unfair situations. They did not show at all how exhausted and worn down all of the kids became after constant, absurd battles. On one hand I can understand how difficult it would have been to translate all of that from a page to a screen, but on the other hand I do feel like they could have at least given us a montage of kids collapsing under pressure.

Worst of all is that the movie showed their hand during the graduation test. The adults were talking very plainly as if the final test was a real battle, and not at all keeping up the appearance of it being fake. We got shots of fighter pilots being deployed, Mazer Rackam reacting harshly when Ender lets a major ship get destroyed (with all of the people on it), and they never really said the words “Mazer is controlling the simulation, programming it so that the enemy learns from your past actions” thus giving Ender (and the audience) the belief that these battles are just more training games. The movie clearly decided that stunning visuals were more important than the entire point of the story. Ender and the audience are supposed to have no idea that the destruction of the planet is real until after it is too late. That reveal is supposed to hit you like a ton of bricks, not like an “oh, thank you for clearing that up because I was getting confused.”

The lack of established exhaustion for Ender combines with this slip in the façade to change one other crucial factor: Ender is still trying very hard to win the “game” during the final battle. In the book he is burnt out and chooses to attack the planet as a way to say “This is what I think of you and your over-the-top impossible tests, now let me go take a nap.” He did not think it was a viable move to make in a real battle because A: genocide is bad, and B: it meant the destruction of their own soldiers as well. He realizes that his flippancy cost the existence of an entire race. Of course, this is exactly what the adults wanted Ender to do. They worked tirelessly to create a situation in which someone could blamelessly make the decision to commit genocide, and Ender has to live with those decisions for the rest of his life.

Any other gripes I have with the movie I feel pretty confident were done in the name of time. It is absurd that all Ender has to do to find the egg sac is walk a few feet outside of their military base instead of traveling to their home planet but it would have taken a lot longer to set up the traveling. Peter’s character is never really developed, and the Locke/Demosthenes plotline never shows up, but despite my desire to see dramatic use of propaganda (don’t let me down, Hunger Games 2!) I can forgive this. I am a bit baffled as to why a story that has three-dimensional thinking as a huge plot point is not being offered in 3D, but I will accept the reasoning of “the creators knew they sabotaged this story so terribly it wouldn’t be worth the expense.”

Ender’s Game was a truly vicious novel. Now it has become a truly toothless movie. Grow some balls, Hollywood.

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