Movie Review: Like the Enemy’s Gate, Ender’s Game is DOWN

A Review of Ender’s Game, directed by Gavin Hood, based on the novel by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game

by REBECCA, November 6, 2013

WARNING: this review contains spoilers for Ender’s Game but does not give away the end.

Ever since I heard Ender’s Game was getting the Hollywood treatment, I’ve vacillated between thinking “no way can such an interior novel make a good movie” and thinking, “it’s a pretty straightforward book to adapt.” Turns out I was right on both counts. Ender’s Game has its compelling moments: the battle scenes are cool, as is the tech, and Asa Butterfield has a face well-suited to expressing Ender’s constant calculation. But, as a whole, it fell very, very flat. 

Ender's Game Orson Scott CardThe biggest problem I had with it is that I fundamentally disagree with what writer/director Gavin Hood’s version sees as the heart of the story. For me, Ender’s time at Battle School is where all the most interesting character development and world revelation occur. The time period when Ender’s in Battle School takes up just under 2/3 of Card’s novel, and it encompasses Ender’s four-year journey all the way from being a launchie and learning the battle room, through several different armies, to leading his own army and competing against the whole school. In short, it’s where we learn that Ender is anything special.

In Hood’s version, though, Ender’s time at Battle School is an abbreviated stop along the way to Command School. This means several things:

1. Ender and the rest of the kids stay the same age throughout, because the timeline is scrunched, so we get no sense that Ender is growing up in this new world or learning anything.

2. Ender is the greatest military mind the world has ever known. Or so Harrison Ford keeps telling me. But, because we don’t see his growth, or that there is any difference between Ender’s strategy and those of the other kids in Battle School, we have to take his word for it. The most difficult element to communicate in any adaptation from novel to film is the interiority of characters, and this is doubly true in the case of Ender’s Game because Hood takes away all of Ender’s decisions and strategizing in Battle School that would have communicated that interiority to us.

3. Since we never see that Ender starts as a launchie with no skills and goes on to win battle after impossible battle with never before seen modes of fighting, we aren’t rooting for him. When he finally gets to Command School, I don’t even feel like I know him well enough to care about his success. Which meant I was caring about the success of his strategy in his final exam . . . which is one of many ways (the POSTER being another) in which I think the film both gives away and undercuts the drama of its own ending.

Ender's Shadow mike careyNote: when you leave the film yearning for more Battle School, check out the two graphic novels that treat the Battle School years, Ender’s Game Volume 1: Battle School, which is from Ender’s POV, and Ender’s Shadow: Battle School, which is from Bean’s POV (following Card’s primary and shadow series).

I am always willing to see a film adaptation as its own piece, which is usually all that allows me to avoid a knee-jerk (and unflattering) comparison to the book. In the case of Ender’s Game, however, the fact that I adore the book is the only thing that gave the movie any life for me at all, as my poor brain was automatically scribbling in bits from the book to round the movie out.

The bottom line, however, is that as a standalone film, Ender’s Game has nothing to differentiate it from any of the other kids + war games films out there. The extraordinary psychological character-building that Card’s novel achieves is completely flattened into a film with a main character whose only distinctions seem to be emotional maturity and good hand-eye coordination. Asa Butterfield isn’t miscast as Ender, certainly, but the way the role is written leaves him nothing to do but sweat and cry with blue-eyed conviction.

What frustrates me so much about Hood’s excision of much of Ender’s character development through the write-out of most of Battle School is that there was plenty of room for it. Ender’s Game already clocked in under two hours and contained at least twenty minutes of fat that could’ve been trimmed. That leaves (by my taste for 2 1/2 hour movies) nearly an hour that could’ve been added back into the film. It’s rare that my complaints about an adaptation are so easily traced back to what I see to be a simple flaw in structure, but for me, you cut most of Battle School, you lose the heart of the whole story, which means the end also falls flat.

Ender’s Game is one of my favorite books; usually, if a film adaptation of a book I love flops, then I’m pissed because its images sneak into my vision of the story. I’m happy to say that this won’t be a problem with Ender’s Game—there was so little to it that I don’t think it’ll stick at all. Now all that’s left is to donate $8.25 to my favorite pro-equality charity in order to offset any pennies sneaking into producer Card’s pockets, and forget the whole thing ever happened. Which won’t be hard. Yup, there, it’s gone.

ENDER'S GAME

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Holy Nano-Tech, Batman, BZRK Is Awesome!

A Review of BZRK by Michael Grant

Egmont USA, 2012

BZRK by Michael Grant BZRK by Michael Grant

by REBECCA, July 21, 2013

hook

On one side of this near-future war, the Armstrong brothers seek mindless utopia; on the other, a guerrilla group (code name BZRK) fights to keep our messed up humanity. The technology is nano; the battleground is the human brain. Can the hackers of BZRK intervene, and save humanity from itself?

worldview

nanoscale

a nanometer is one billionth of a meter

In the near future, humans have developed the ability to manipulate nanotechnology so deftly that certain highly-skilled operators can simultaneously see from the perspectives of two tiny biots as well as their own. They can direct these nanobots with their brains because they are, strictly speaking, part of them. They can tell these biots to climb in through your eye socket and make their way to your brain. And then they can control you. Note: in case it’s not clear, THIS SHIT IS TERRIFYING! The Armstrong brothers are conjoined twins who have built an empire and are now leveraging their wealth and power in attempting to turn the world into a utopia where there will be no more war and we’ll all get along. (I think we all know how that one’s going to turn out, guys.)

Opposed to the Armstrongs is BZRK, a ragtag group of hackers who are fighting against this takeover, and are willing to do whatever it takes to stop the Armstrongs. This is no Hackers; this is high-level international politicking. And it’s all done with something so small it’s invisible.

BZRK is told from the perspectives of both BZRK and the Armtsrongs’ team of hackers, and it is a thrill ride, y’all. Michael Grant does an amazing job of making nanotechnology come alive. The explanations are rigorous enough that I was completely convinced that this will all come to pass soon, and I have actually not been this horrified while reading a novel in a while. Manipulating biots is sort of like a combination of playing a video game, commanding soldiers, and being in a virtual reality simulation. Sometimes while running for your life in the real world. The hackers call having your biots on or in someone’s body as “being in the meat” and the descriptions of the landscapes of the human body are thrilling. It sounds a bit like this ride at Universal Studios, Body Wars, where you’re a blood cell or something and you move through the body! My mom got totally sick on it, but I thought it was awesome.

I was lately bemoaning my own lackluster science experience in middle and high school and saying to a friend that if I had learned about science from doing research into elements of my favorite science fiction books I would have been totally captivated. BZRK is one of those books that I immediately recommended to everyone science-y that I know (which is, like, two people, so spread the word).

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

BZRK Reloaded by Michael GrantGrant’s goal seemed to be to terrify the ever-loving bejeezus out of me, and he succeeded unequivocally. Reading about fighting a battle where the landscapes are the surface of someone’s optic nerve, or the folds of their brain? Truly awesome. And that’s where the real innovation of this novel was—the ideas. I was sold on them 100% and I can’t wait to read the sequel. But the ideas aren’t instead of a plot or good characters. The dialogue in BZRK is great, and the characters well delineated. There is definite room for development in the sequel, BZRK Reloaded, out October 8th.

Bonus: I have never met a ragtag group of hackers that I didn’t like! I also really love that we’re at the point now where a book can just go ahead and assert that the side that is trying for utopia is clearly the villains and not need to explain why because we all totally get it. Refreshingly, BZRK does some things that make them just as villainous as the hackers for the other side, so this isn’t a sunshine and rainbows high school computer club that makes us all warm and fuzzy.

BZRK is violent, harsh, and intense, and I loved every minute of it. Read this immediately if you like sci-fi, tech, strategy, hacking, and good, old-fashioned awesomeness.

procured from: the library

Why Aren’t You Reading… The Tapestry Series by Henry H. Neff?

houndofrowanthesecondsiegethefiendandtheforgethemaelstrom

by Tessa

Maybe you’re already reading this series, about a boy named Max who finds out that he’s the son of an Irish mythological figure, and goes to magical boarding school in America (not in that order) and then the world irrevocably changes because the wrong book gets into the wrong allegedly-demonic hands,  in which case RAD, can we chat about it together?

BUT – I’m guessing that lots of people haven’t – at least it hasn’t been written up in the many places that I go to hear about books. Granted, there are way more places to go read about books that it’s just not possible for me to visit. There are a couple of reasons that may explain this – the series is older middle grade and the first two books read very much like American Harry Potter, so I feel as though it may have been dismissed as reductive in some people’s minds.

There are some very compelling reasons (I hope) to give The Tapestry series a second look if you weren’t into the first book or a first look, if you haven’t  yet heard of it.

Pros:

– Irish mythology!

Ever since I read The Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland, collected by Jeremiah Curtain, I’ve been into the meandering, tough, hyperbolic, funny stories from that country. Even though I know I’m mispronouncing all the names when I read it in my head. Max finds out (spoiler alert?) that he’s the sun of Lugh Lámhfhada, an Irish god associated with the sun and athleticism, which means he’s the half-brother of Cúchulainn, the Hound of Ulster, which is why he’s known as the Hound of Rowan (Rowan being the American Hogwarts stand-in here). Not that you have to know anything about Irish mythology to read the series, I just enjoy that Max has a grounding in a mythology that exists outside of the books.

Cuchulainn Slays the Hound of Culain via Wikipedia

Cuchulainn Slays the Hound of Culain via Wikipedia

This also means that Max is a real badass. He’s full of Old Magic and a member of the Red Branch (magical CIA type people) and although he wields the Gae Bolga, a sword/spear embedded with the terrifying bloodlust of Cúchulainn, he’s a pretty thoughtful kid thrust into a world where he has to make life or death decisions for, like, the entire human race.

Actually there are 3 children of Old Magic in this series. They all have their own strengths, and their own secrets. The magic is well spread out among the students and teachers and the political intrigue is well done.

– Totally epic, metal demons

Demons are a big part of this series. They are trying to infiltrate Rowan to steal a powerful book that can rewrite REALITY ITSELF… and they eventually do. But they don’t turn the world into a stereotypical hell. It becomes more feudal, and more pastoral. But still with tentacled horrors that live inside wells and terrorize families. As the present becomes the past… with demons, things are correspondingly more epic. It recalled the lyrics of metal bands such as the brutal (read:rad) Absu. This is from a song off of 2009’s Absu:

The old woman of Nippur
Instructs Ninlil to walk the banks of Idnunbirdu
She thrusts he magic (k)
To harvest the mind of the great
mountain-lord Enlil

The bright-eyed king will fall to your anguish
His soul lures the hexagonal room
He who decrees fates – his spirit is caught
His soul lured to the hexagonal room

Nunbarshegunu
A silk veil strewn over you
Your face is the cosmos
You hide it in shame

I admire an author who is not afraid to change the entire nature of the Earth. Neff does it and pulls it off without becoming too lost in the large canvas he’s created.

A new kind of adversary

Astaroth is the main antagonist, although the political intrigues of the demon world shift around during books 3 and 4. He’s firmly not in the Eye of Sauron all seeing all evil all the time camp. He’s an activist godlike figure. Like if NoFace from Spirited Away had all the powers of Old Testament God but not all the wrath – Astaroth pretends he’s a softy but really the world is just his plaything. He’s doing it for humanity’s own good. He thinks humanity is better without choices. His face is an always-smiling white mask.

an imagining of Astaroth from the Dictionnaire Infernal (1818) - via Wikipedia

an imagining of Astaroth from the Dictionnaire Infernal (1818) – via Wikipedia

Cons:

– The first book is deceptively Harry Potter-like (with a dash of Riordan’s The Olympians)

I dunno, this isn’t a huge con for me, but it’s worth noting. Also, if you read the first book and were not into the Hag “humor”, it is much diminished in the others.

– The illustrations can take away from the story sometimes.

I hate saying this because Henry Neff is the writer AND illustrator, so these are the representations of the images that inspired the story that I enjoy reading so much… however, there have been times when seeing the illustrations takes the wind out of the much creepier thing I was thinking of in my brain, inspired by the prose.

– His website uses Papyrus as a title font.

 

Obviously the pros are much stronger than the cons, so what are you waiting for?

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