Preface: The first thing I want to put at the top of this is a huge disclaimer. I'm only 2 hours removed from Ender's Game the movie and am riding on the high of my first Chuck Klosterman book so my natural reaction was to write about this topic. First, I want to say that Gavin Hood and OddLot made an Ender's Game movie. Based on the history of the film this is impressive and they managed to make what most will say is a passable Ender's Game experience -- and avoided what I was afraid they had done by the trailers and strip the ending of its impact. Congratulations to Mr. Hood, Asa Butterfield, and the rest of the cast and crew for making something which is more than I can claim. But I'm about to claim that, so beware. Also, spoilers.
What Ender Wiggin Means To Me
Andrew 'Ender' Wiggin is an incredibly meaningful character to me. For someone as obsessed with pop culture, story telling, and all other forms of media this is a powerful statement to me.
I first read Ender's Game in high school, and since college have probably finished the book another 4-5 times. I have also read every other book in the Enderverse (Speaker, Xenocide, Children, Ender's Shadow, Giant, Puppets, and Shadows in Flight) at least twice each. It's easy to say that I love what Orson Scott Card create, even if I don't necessarily love Orson Scott Card and even as the quality of the books decreases as the overt religions overtones tend to increase. The other thing thats impressive about the series, is how few novel universes I've ever fell so completely into. I never finished Lord of the Ring (enough about the table, its a nice table, but move on it's been 3 pages), finished Harry Potter but I've never felt the need to dive back in, and Chuck Palahniuk refuses to release a Rant sequel, so that book is singular and self contained. But Ender always keeps me coming back for more, and I think I can finally figure out why.
Ender gets me.
Really, Ender gets everyone. That's kind of his shtick. Empathy. Empathy is the main lesson lying at the heart of the first book, that Ender learns to see the world so fully from other people's persepectives that he at once love's them and can see their greatest weaknesses. This is how he fights and how he wins. Starting off with this lesson at the top might be whatever the opposite of burying the lead is, but it's late and I never claimed to be a professional reader. Ender didn't teach me how to empathize with other people or anything like that, in fact I'm not sure empathy is a learned skill (Peter couldn't learn it afterall, no matter how smart he is) but I did learn all the feelings that encompass empathy. I can now realize when what I'm trying to do is empathize with someone else and focus on that aspect.
This is the mushy-gushy part of the book that I think is what makes it universal. Orson Scott Card never sugarcoated the issue by saying Ender won with love, Ender learned to love his enemies, and then used that knowledge to crush them. Knowledge is power, and thats a lesson I've never forgotten.
Ender also taught me about leadership. Wiggin isn't just a brilliant strategist, he's also a leader of people. I've never had to lead the way Ender does, but I've put my self in a position to hopefully make it to that point in time. Ender knows two things, having the right tools (in this case his soldiers) to do the job is only a small part of the battle. All chessboards start with the same pieces on them, but it takes someone looking at the whole board to be able to move the pieces. Ender makes the hard choices and can always keep the big picutre in mind. But he knows that everyone has a limit.
Ender delegates. Ender delegates with extreme success. He knows not only who to trust, but how to trust them and with how much to trust them. Admittedly, he isn't perfect (poor Petra), but really that just adds to his mystique. He has a way of drawing the best leaders from those around him and thats what makes him a successful commander. He doesn't assign tasks, he assigns ownership, leadership, and he gives his toon leaders agency over the battle. This is probably the most applicable lesson from the book and this is the place where I try and emulate Ender the most, and where I find the most room for improvement. I'm lucky to work with a lot of smart and talented people at Lisnr, and I've seen first hand the kind of work people produce when they have agency, a goal, and knowledge of how that goal fits into the overall strategy. It's a delicate balance to strike, that Ender manages to find with each of his toon leader (again, thanks to his incredible gift for empathy).
Ender also taught me how to win. And how to win the right way. Ender never got tunnel vision, he never looked for the easy victory or took the first path he found. Ender struggled and stayed 2 moves ahead of his opponents. When Ender first lashes out and beats Stilson into the ground he is asked why. Ender says something to the affect of "Knocking him down won the first battle, I wanted to win the rest of them too." The only victory that matters is the final one -- everything else is just a step along the way.
And finally, Ender showed me that it's not about being the best man for the job, its about being the right man for the job. This is probably where I break down into spoiler territory because I'm going to talk about some facts not revealed in Ender's game, but rather talk about Bean a bit.
If you haven't read Ender's Shadow, then you probably didn't realize that Bean is off the charts smart. And when I mean off-the-charts I mean off Ender's charts. He's the most brilliant mind humanity has ever produced. He's arguably a better strategist than Ender, and he can crank through scenarios much quicker while also keeping the entire picture his head. Bean is actually responsible for a lot of Ender's surprising success he has late in his battle school career. It's Bean who can analyze every student in the Battle School and find the diamonds in the rough. It's Bean who figures out about the Ansible and realizes how futile it would be to try and defend a planet.
Bean is the smartest cadet in Battle School. He's the quickest thinker and the best tactician. And in almost every measurable way, Bean is better than Ender. He's the best person for the job, but he isn't the right person for the job. That's Ender. It was always Ender. Ender succeeds not because he's the best, but because he knows he has too. Petra's the better shot, Alai is the better leader of people, Beans the better soldier, but Ender is good enough at all those things and he has the will. It's a trait I admire, even if Ender doesn't know he isn't the best, he does what needs to be done because he knows he can do it.
That's a damn good lesson.
The best part about Ender, is ultimately, he is a tragic figure. Despite being "Battle Commander" he turns about to be another piece in a much larger game being played by Graff and the IF. Ender doesn't see himself as a Hero. He knows in the end, he was just a pawn, and yet he still accepts the responsibility for his actions.
Gavin Hood's "Ender's Game"
Next I want to talk a little about what I did and didn't like about the Ender's Game movie before eventually moving into the way more self-obsessed "How I would have done it" section where I pretend to know more about movies than movie producers / directors / writers, etc.
Asa Butterfield was a pretty terrific cast for Ender.
The battle room looked pretty stunning, I bought all of the zero-g
They kept the story intact for the most part, including appropriate fan lipservice
The Bad -- I won't do this in bullet points because I have more to say here.
First, the pacing of this movie was weird to say the least. I didn't like it all. They shoved the entire book into one movie that was sub 2 hours. Normally I appreciate the shorter run time, but no part of the story felt like it got what it deserved. We were moved around so quickly from scene to scene that we never got to feel any impact of anything in the story. The book is pretty introspective, spending a lot of time inside of Ender's head and this is probably very hard to transfer to film without falling into Lizzie McGuire territory, so I can understand they had trouble finding the right way to let the audience into Ender's head and see how everything affected him, but I still thought it was done all wrong.
Second, the relationships just felt like they weren't there. Throughout the book Ender has several meaningful relationships: Peter, Valentine, Alai, Petra, Bean, Dink Meeker, and Graff. While all the characters were in the film, and they tried to show that they were all important to Ender, none of the relationships felt flushed out or whole. There weren't the brilliant ups and downs of the book that left Ender unsure of his footing with Alai, or Petra which made their reunion so much more brilliant and meaningful. I also missed the struggle against the teachers -- I wanted to see the breakdown as the morphed the game against him.
Third, Ender never struggled. Ender's biggest problem in this movie seemed to be he didn't like killing Bonzo. He didn't struggle in the battle school. Even the Ender in the book got burnt out. He kept winning, because he had to, but it got hard on him. And Command school was supposed to be even tougher, to the point of physically passing out. I wanted to see that Ender, not this super Ender.
Lastly, WHY WOULD YOU HURRY THROUGH THE BATTLE ROOM. The answer has to be money. But, you build an incredible machine to use to rig and record the zero-g sequences, and I guess the CGI must have been crazy, but the battle room was incredible to see. I wanted to see waaaaay more of the imporant Battles from the book. They didn't need to condense all of Dragon army's battles down into 1 battle. It cheapened Ender's victories in the face of almost certain defeat.
Now, as promised...
How I Would Have Done It
Firstly, I'm following the lead from Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and the Hobbit and slicing this book up! This book is so dense and could be easily enhanced by breaking it into three films.
I'm making a few of the same trade offs Hood did. I'm cutting the Locke/Demothenese plot line. It's great, and important to the Enderverse as a whole, but it doesn't fit in the film and doesn't translate well to a visual medium. I'm also shrinking the size of armies to avoid having to cast a bajillion kids. As I understand, filming with minors is a hassle.
The titles aren't great but I'll try and give a quick recap of major plot points from the films as I've broken them up.
We're introduced to Ender Wiggin much as we were in GH's, but despite liking Butterfield, I'm going younger. I don't have a perfect Ender in mind yet, but I'm splitting the difference between the books 6 and Butterfield's ~14? and going with a 9-10 year old. We see him at school, with the monitor, the monitor is removed but there is no fight yet. He goes home
Intro to Peter. The first person Ender has to confront after the monitor is removed is Peter. We get a much longer speech by Peter (perhaps Butterfield wants to be in my movie afterall?). And then we get the Buggers&Astronauts scene. Here we also get Valentine's intro.
Back at school, the next day, we get the Stilson fight, and the first 'murder'. We won't know this of course, we stay in Ender's shoes
Graff shows up to the Wiggin's and recruits Ender. Up until this point around 25-30 minutes have elapsed.
The shuttle, we get Bernard tossed and his arm broken, we get Graff isolating Ender.
Launchie, we set Bernard up as a leader but only to intro Alai as his friend
Intro to battle room we get Alai and Ender bonding in the battle room. They eventually turn Bernard to their side.
We get 1 or two more scense of Alai and Ender teaching launchies in the battle room as we get explanations of the school and the rules of the game introduced to us.
Ender gets promoted to Salamander. We're about 55 minutes in at this point, maybe an hour.
Here we meet my Petra (are Armenian's blonde? Who cares. Moretz is scary and badass and makes the perfect Petra). Petra in my movie is a little more along the lines of the book, she has a huge chip on her shoulder but does have some genuine care in her heart for Ender.
We get Bonzo, Petra, Ender & Petra training, and we get Ender disobeying orders (I love Hood's whole depiction of how Ender did this for Petra).
Montage of 2-3 more Salamander battles and Ender tearing up the battle room, we get to see at least one scene of Ender firing between his legs. We see shots inbetween of more of battle school, the leaderboards in the mess, and possibly mix in some shots of Ender and the giants drink.
Ender gets his promotion, we don't know what army. Dap takes Ender to his bunk and Ender holds up his new grey and orange suit and we see the Dragon logo.
This movie is important to establish Ender, the major players, and to introduce us to Battle School. We get a good dose of Ender the soldier. We're setting up the stakes for the next film, but we get to see an undermatched Ender trying to get the ropes of the Battle School. We've established Graff as a character who is willing to push Ender, willing to try and break him. I didn't list this as a scene by scene so in my head there are plenty of Graff and Anderson interstitials as they help us get inside Ender's head acting as the audience proxy. We also get a couple of incredible Battle Room sequences. We get to experience the battle room as Ender though, alot of near first-person, we don't see the whole field of battle. We don't see the whole picture yet (neither does Ender). That's called symbolism kids. The movie ends on what I think is a hollywood appropriate cliff hanger.
Ender walks into the dragon barracks, wearing his suit. We get this scene almost verbatim from the book.
Next we reintroduce Graff, as Ender confronts him about his new army, mostly launchies, and rejects. He asks about the Dragon name, the curse, etc. Graff pushes and prods him and tells him how he expects him to have the army in shape in a month or so
We get the first and second dragon practice, we are intro'd to Bean more in depth. We see Ender screw up with Bean. (I also invite a second filmmaker friend on to the set to shoot a 45 minute Ender's Shadow short film from Bean's prespective). We get Ender explaining how his new toon structure works and we get to hear for the first time "The Enemies Gate is Down".
Ender's first battle, with still green soldiers. Ender explains he is going to pour through the door and just immediatley attack the enemy while they attempt to form up. We see them scrape by and barely win. Ender talks about how the strategy could only work once. All of these battle room scenes are shot in much farther third person than the first one, we can see much more of the battle room at once.
Battle room montage, we see Ender mopping up 4-5 more armies. Each battle looking more and more dominating. We get shots of Dragon kids cheering and playing around. And shots of Ender in his bunk, just thinking. We see Bonzo looking angry a few times. We get Graff telling ANderson to start figuring out ways to stack the deck against Ender.
Ender gives Bean his special toon. He tells Bean he thinks the game is changing.
We get the salamander army battle where they have the 5 minute head start. At the end Ender throws his tamtrum and insults Bonzo.
Dink tells Ender to never be alone.
We get one more battle of a stacked variety (Ender has a entirely blocked vision, or the battle where the other soldiers thaw). Ender wins, he passes out in his bunk. When he awakes he goes to the bathroom.
Next we get the final battle against two armies. Bean repeats the "enemies gate is down" and they do their formation. Ender wins, he quits. We get the great speech from the book about making it fair and how its never fair with Ender on the other side. Graff announces the new rule about having to freeze all soldiers, Ender says "It could only work once anyway". Ender quits, loud, and verablly.
Ender gets a scrap of paper with "ORDERS: EARTH" and he's seen hanging up his flashsuit and boarding a shuttle boand for Earth.
This movie is the meat of Battle school. We get to see at least 3 battles in their entirety and get to see Ender develop as a commander and see him start to wear down. He lashes out a couple of times. He has his fight with Bonzo and his enemies gate is down scene. It's all iconic. At the end, audiences are given a "is he iced" cliffhanger.
The title starts of ironic, as we get Ender just floating on a lake. A car pulls up and we see Graff get out (slightly fatter if possible). He walks around and opens the passenger door, and we see Valentine. Ender doesn't seem to notice or care. Valentine approaches him and says "Hi, Ender." Ender replies with "Ho, Val." I want to show you can take the boy out of battle school but...
I want to give this interaction more time in my movie than Hood, the raft scene is a good 5-10 minute dialogue. Ender makes his decision, he knows he has to go back.
Graff and Ender board the shuttle and head to Eros. We use the joke of the pilot being stuck as an easy laugh
Ender spends the whole ride studying the Mazer Rackham propoganda. Recutting and re-editing until he gets as much as he can.
Ender gets to Eros
Ender meets Rackham
Ender meets the simulator and his toon leaders: Dink, Petra, Bean, and Alai.
Training begins. We get about 2 flights and are intro'd to the MD. Rackham cautions him about how Rackham will treat the tests as if the enemy can learn, Ender says "It could only work once anyway".
Ender asks Rackham about the propoganda video, Rackham helps him discover how he won.
We see the next simulator battle where Ender breaks Petra. He is stressed and pushes her to do too much.
One or two more battles, Ender loses the first, passes out during the second.
When he returns Rackham promises only two more battles. The first Ender wins, but just barely.
Next Rackham explains what graduation means, Graff reiterates its importance.
The final graduation battle. Where its hopeless, and we see Ender's dejection and only see his face after Bean says "The Enemy's gate is down". Ender says something along the lines of "Bean, you're right. If they want to ruin the game again, then lets give it to them." Ender starts his order and we get the big finale.
Then we get the reveal.
The rest of the movie plays out as expected. I would use the post-credits to either show the egg, or introduce the colonization stuff. Or both.
This movie is about Ender realizing his destiny, we get to see him struggle, both against Rackham, his own team, and himself. We get to see him give up, only to win one more time. And we get to see how he reacts to what he's done. It's the ultimate payoff.
If you have loads of money and want to make this, buy the rights and shoot me a line. I'll gladly help.