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Warning: This editorial contains MAJOR book spoilers for Ender’s Game.

Ender's Game 2013

As we head into 2013 and move closer to Ender’s Game, I want to address what I think the Ender’s Game movie will need to do in order to be a success in the eyes of faithful book fans.

I should note that I’m not talking about box office success. I’ve been an admin for Mockingjay.net, one the oldest and largest Hunger Games fansites out there, for a year and a half and what I have learned is that when you stalk a movie’s production and marketing, somewhere along the way you form expectations. You form a list of which scenes you assume are impossible to cut. And while the movie can rake in piles and piles of cash, it can still leave its book fans feeling somewhat lost and empty.

To give some perspective, I began working for Mockingjay.net in June 2011. For close to a year, I knew every bit of news that came out about the movie. I talked the movie to death with other fansites on a weekly podcast and daily on Skype. We analyzed every still, every frame of every trailer, and prepared ourselves for its release in March.

We were invited to the world premiere at the Nokia and got to watch the movie with the cast, crew, and hundreds of other fans. But when the lights came on after it was over, and everyone around me was gushing, I felt slightly sick. I was so disappointed. Since then, I’ve gone through a roller coaster of opinions and now months later, I feel it was a decent film adaptation, but ultimately feel the true heart of the book didn’t make it. But back then, everyone was so fixated on the joy of how big the movie was becoming that it felt wrong to be disappointed. When I finally did feel brave enough to voice my discontent, I found that tons of other fans felt exactly the same way.

Ender’s Game has always held a special place in my book heart. The little boy who lost his childhood in order to save the world made me feel so many things when I was a teenager. Sympathy. Heartache. Pride. Love. Loss.

I’ve talked extensively on this site about the obvious changes to Ender. He’s now 10-12 instead of 6-10. I’ve had a long time to come to terms with this change, which is probably why you’ll find so many of my editorials in support of his “new” age. The set visit that Summit treated the fansites to in May made us aware of yet another glaring change, one that I have become increasingly wary of because I think it has the potential to alienate a lot of book fans if it isn’t pulled off perfectly.

We have to expect changes. Big ones and small ones. We have to expect omissions and new scenes as well. This is a film adaptation, so a large percentage of the book will be cut out. For instance, from looking at the casting list, there’s no Shen. Hot Soup isn’t listed either. I think most people would agree that there’s probably little to no room for Locke and Demosthenes.

Ender-GraffWhat Asa Butterfield and Gavin Hood have to do is get the audience to love him. Despite Stilson, Bernard, and Bonzo. People have to be able to love Ender. And yet that’s just part of the ultimate goal. Yes, we need stunning graphics, exciting Battle Room scenes, perfect chemistry between Ender’s friends, a kickass score, and great performances as well, but in the end I think it comes down to preserving the hidden truth about the final battle.

If you think about the ending and Ender’s final test, it seems rather difficult to hide the twist from both the audience and from Ender, but I think this is the only way they can capture the heart of the book on screen. That grand deception is what serves as the platform for our overwhelming sympathy and love for Ender. A genius made into a weapon. A child tricked into the worst act imaginable. A boy made into a monster.

Going back to The Hunger Games, to me the heart of the book rested in the last quarter of the book. An emotionally and mentally broken Katniss Everdeen just barely holding it together. And what came out in the theater was a tough girl shrugging off the horrors of the Arena and almost casually dismissing everything that had happened. She was a heroine and that was what director Gary Ross wanted to accomplish. But the Katniss that mattered didn’t emerge and as a result, moviegoers who hadn’t read the book lost out on all that emotion and never really got to see what is truly the heart of that story.

There’s no doubt people fell in love with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. It was hard not to. But her Katniss was only part of book-Katniss. She needed the right scenes to truly bring the full potential of movie-Katniss out. And in the end, whether by editing or by writing, audiences never got to see that Katniss. In the book, you couldn’t help but wonder at how young and vulnerable she was and think, “Look at what they did to her.” In the movie, it was as if she could take down the world all by herself.

Asa Butterfield’s Ender will need the right scenes as well. I have no doubt he’ll be able to play a great Ender, but without that last scene in which he finally becomes aware of what they’ve tricked him into doing, the book’s heart is lost. You have to be able to see that look of betrayal in Ender’s eyes. You have to see his pain and think, “Look at what they did to him.”

If they can accomplish that and place all the other little pieces that make a movie great all around it, they’ll have succeeded in my eyes and hopefully for all other book fans as well.

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  • EC Spencer

    Well said! I’d agree with everything…I think my biggest trepidation is the age factor, as you mentioned. Trying to get that, “Look what they DID to him” with a 14-year old isn’t quite the same. And it’s definitely in the 14-16 year old age bracket, even worse than the 10-12 years which I think we were all hoping for…

  • Jason

    Something that I think the movie needs to show, that the book doesn’t, is establish the lethality, collective nature, and strangeness of the formics at the very beginning. Patient book readers can forstall this knowledge, but moviegoers will expect something from the very beginning that gives the unfolding story of Ender meaning and the importance of the re-emergence of Mazer. For example, I really liked the introduction in the first few minutes of Pixar’s ‘Up’.

    I can imagine scenes of a tranquil Earth (perhaps Mazer drinking in a bar without a care), suddenly bombarded from space (Mazer’s friends, some family lost). Groups of human spaceships racing out to meet the threat in impressive numbers (Mazer among them), then seen dwarfed by the incoming Formics numbers. Human resistance near collapse, soldier’s showing the whites in their eyes, pilots looking haggard and exhausted, every space able ship pressed into military service. Mazer involved in final desperate battle, at one moment, it looks like the battle/war is lost, then Mazer saves the day. He receives an award/medal and is told then it is expected that the Formics will return. The Formics will have learned from their first lessons against humans, so Mazer cannot be used directily. But he can be used to train the next military genius that will hopefully be found in the future. Then cut to Ender getting bullied by brother/classmates and commence with the rest of the story.

    What do you think?

    • Valentine

      I feel like you’re right, that they have to establish the past in more ways than just history lessons. I really like your imagined opening, but I dunno, it might be too prolonged. I think they could show the battle, then before it comes to a conclusion, cut it off and say “60 years later” or something. You’d then have to hear about the conclusion of it through say, a history lesson that Ender is sitting through maybe?

      • Jason

        I like your ideas too. What shouldn’t happen is for Mazer to show up in the movie without some explanation as to why he is so important. Either they introduce him at the beginning like I suggested, or perhaps when he does show up, there is a mazer monologue of him describing the Formic invasion and his role; along with visual imagery to coincide with it.

        • Valentine

          Although, to be fair, they could simply do what the book did and constantly talk about Mazer throughout Battle School.

          Going back to keeping the twist ending, I should clarify that Gavin Hood does say he keeps the ending, but I am not 100% sure he keeps it from the audience as well. I think it has to be kept secret from not just Ender, but the people watching as well.

  • http://twitter.com/toddqm Todd Miller (@toddqm)

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I wrote a similar story about it. http://www.enderwiggin.net/2012/12/30/enders-game-ultimately-accomplish/

  • Jason

    I think I committed a minor fan faux-pa. I forgot that Kyle Clements had been cast as a young Mazer Rackham. So, its likely we’ll see some kind of flashback footage.

    • Valentine

      Flashback footage yes, but I guess what I’m still wondering is if some will be in “current” time and if others will be just videos Ender watches.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wendy.clare.71 Wendy Clare

    From what I’ve heard (from you? Or some other source??), the audience will know (perhaps through some ES material worked in with Bean?), but Ender won’t–so his reaction will be the same, even though the Big Reveal won’t happen for the viewers. I think that’s a good compromise, and if they develop Ender’s growing exhaustion/nightmares, etc., there’ll be plenty of love for him in the end.

    • Jason

      Yes. I can see that too. :)

  • Costellosthenes

    While I agree that it’s important that we see how Ender’s childhood was shattered, that is only the beginning of the true value of the moral implications of the themes in Ender’s Game. Ender’s Game is really a prelude to the Speaker series, which is all about how when we learn to understand, empathize with, and even love other intelligent life (no matter how foreign), it is not because they have achieved a grand moral evolution, but rather we have achieved matured morally. For me, I love seeing how Ender writes the Hive Queen and decides to carry the cocoon to a safe, new home even after he has been used as a weapon of destruction. He could try to justify his actions and shift the blame to the teachers, but he does not. He takes accountability and begins an impossible restitution. This is Ender beginning to grasp this powerful concept of understanding and loving “otherness” in spite of (or perhaps because of) what was done to him, and then setting out on his path to redemption. I love this story, and it is so important for as many people as possible to experience it.

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  • first_fanette

    aaah, so this is where the “information” about the movie not keeping the secret from the audience comes from. I’m not sure how much you can say, but could any of you elaborate on that? What makes you think so?

    • http://twitter.com/EnderNet EnderWiggin.net

      Not sure what you’re talking about, can you elaborate? This is an editorial and therefore an opinion piece, I don’t have info! :)

      • first_fanette

        sorry, I should have said. The other day a person posted a reaction on tumblr, saying that the movie was going to give the information about the final battle being a real one to the audience (if not Ender), thus replacing the surprise with dramatic irony. I was very surprised and denied that there was any truth to this, asking for the source of this “information.”

        Then I read your opinion piece and thought: Ah, she implies that this might be the case, too, so maybe there is information out there. Your quotes that made me think so are the following:

        “The set visit that Summit treated the fansites to in May made us aware of yet another glaring change, one that I have become increasingly wary of because I think it has the potential to alienate a lot of book fans if it isn’t pulled off perfectly.”

        “… it seems rather difficult to hide the twist from both the audience and from Ender, but I think this is the only way they can capture the heart of the book on screen”

        and then later in the discussion, you say: “I should clarify that Gavin Hood does say he keeps the ending, but I am not 100% sure he keeps it from the audience as well. I think it has to be kept secret from not just Ender, but the people watching as well.”

        So I guess this is what you fear, that Hood does not keep the surprise for the audience, and I just thought you probably had reasons to suspect that. What else could that “glaring change” have been? (It does sound rather vague.) So I thought I’d just ask whether there is more to it than just an unfounded sort of fear (which I kind of doubt, because your opinion pieces sound very well thought through).

  • Demosthenes

    It’s all well and good having the CGI and the action sequences but action was never the main focus of the book and from the trailer I fear that may become over-saturated in the film. This leaves less time for other important sub-plots like The Giant’s Drink/ End Of The World, which had a massive impact on the development of Ender’s character. There is also the Locke/ Demosthenes sub-plot, which is important for both Peter and Valentine as characters but also to build a picture of the world outside of the battle school. These examples are important parts of the book and I fear they could also be easily omitted from the movie, but for me, without them they wouldn’t be telling the whole story.

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