When I was a kid, we got those great little flip books with a record or tape included. The tape had all the narration and sound effects of, say Return of the Jedi, and the book had the accompanying snapshots from the movie. You knew it was time to turn to the next page in the book when the audio tape made a ‘beep’ or if the production team was clever, a lightsabre noise.
This is well and good when quickly mapping a 2 hour movie into a 20 page kids book with a cassette tape inside the front cover, but not so good when working in the reverse and using source material like, an galaxy-spanning drama that asks Big Questions about meaning of dominance and empathy through a bullied child-genius bred to save humanity.
This was the difficulty: many pivotal scenes were pulled directly from the novel, characters were left intact, terminology, phrases, moments – they were all there and could be bookmarked on specific pages of a dog-eared library copy from 1986. But this isn’t the way an experience should properly translate across media – in a good interpretation, something is given up in order to gain something more that was never in the original, because it couldn’t be.
Ender’s Game: The Movie felt like a picture book-and-cassette version of the novel. Select highlights without any interpretation by the media of the Big Screen, instead a literal translation; moments were like accurate snapshots and followed each other at a mechanical pace, connected by some rudimentary ‘time passed’ construct like ‘Email Home’ or ‘hypersleep-through the stars’ to indicate time or place has moved on.
On the other hand, the production design (By Ben Procter and many other amazing visionaries) was unique and bold and fit the mood of the book. It was a difficult task to interpret the Battle Rooms in ways that were understandable by the audience and it felt like there was a missed opportunity to really show some Sports Movie type action mixed with some Cirque de Soleil zeroG manoeuvres. The space battle scenes suffered from the usual ‘too much going on’ that CG encourages. (remember how understandable the battles were in, say return of the Jedi, though their scope was meant to be no smaller?)
The movie could have been afforded the room to breath, and if a book like The Hobbit is deserving of a trilogy, Ender’s Game could very much have benefited from the same breathing room for its ensemble cast. Even a TV miniseries if the budget was right – Battle Star Galactica found a good voice in that format.