Movies made from books seem to have the odds stacked against them, especially science fiction books. My favorite author, Robert Heinlein, wrote two books that were made into movies after his death, and both sucked toxic waste: Puppet Masters and Starship Troopers.
More recently, the last Harry Potter movie did quite a good job of adapting the book. I started reading that series to my then-young children when it came out. Most of the movie adaptations in the series were fair, but the last one was worthy of several repeated viewings. Many Tolkien fans swear by the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They’ll sit through twelve hour marathons to watch all three movies again.
I wish I could say Ender’s Game is in the same league, but I can’t.
I’m assuming most readers have read the book at some point, so I’m not worried about spoilers. For those of you who have not read the book, I suggest that you don’t bother with this movie. It will probably feel like another generic “kid saves the universe” story, with special effects trying to carry a sketchy plot. If you plan to see it despite this advice, then you might want to stop reading now.
For those who have read the book, let me explain my mixed feelings about this movie.
If you already understand the story, this movie isn’t awful. It’s nowhere near as bad as the Heinlein adaptations I mentioned earlier. It has generally good casting and good special effects. If you are a really big fan of the book, as I am, it’s worth a viewing. It really works to stay faithful to the book.
In fact, the movie’s biggest problem is that it tries too hard to stay faithful to the book.
I cited Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 because it is an excellent example of adapting the story to the needs of a movie. There are many things that depart from the book. For example, in the book, Voldemort can’t feel when a Horcrux is destroyed, and Harry can’t just sense their presence. But the movie needed those shortcuts for dramatic effect, and they work very, very well in the film.
Ender’s Game feels like a Cliff’s Notes version of the book. Or perhaps a Cliff’s Notes version with every other page missing.
Every major theme and turning point is included, but most of them are in matchstick drawings instead of fleshed out drama. For example, the battle room scenes are well done from a production standpoint. But there are not many of those scenes. The development of Ender’s skills and leadership is compressed to a mishmash, with one battle against other teams mashing together several battles in the book, simply extracting key scenes from each one. The result feels disconnected and contrived.
When the script does depart from the book, it’s done badly. They obviously wanted the character of Petra in that major battle room scene, so they contrived a sprained ankle by a team member and a dispensation from Graff to get her there. But just before that, it’s explained that Ender’s team is a bunch of misfits anyway. At that point, Petra doesn’t have her own army, so why not just put her in Ender’s and skip the contrivance? That’s the kind of spackling over a problem that makes a movie adaptation smooth.
The final battle is fairly well done. The set for it was perfect, and the use of holographic technology and gestures was as good as any movie I’ve ever seen.
Then that was spoiled with a heavy handed resolution about the battle being real instead of a simulation. That entire part of the movie bends over backwards to slap people in the face with the supposed peaceful nature of the buggers, and how terribly awful it was to kill all of them. As the book made clear, they started the conflict and killed many millions of people. When the survival of one’s species is on the line, giving the benefit of the doubt to an enemy who attacked first is mushy, politically correct sillyness.
Casting is reasonably good. They apparently wanted the gruff version of Harrison Ford here, so that’s what they got the entire movie. They could have done lots worse for the role of Graff. Ben Kingsley was fine as Mazer Rackham.
Most of the kids are good enough to get by. The actress in the role of Petra turned in a good performance, but she looked too soft for my vision of Petra. Plus, she resembled the actress playing Valentine enough that I got confused at least once about which one Ender was talking to.
I have no idea if the kid playing Bean is any good, because they didn’t give him enough of a part to find out. I realize the story had to focus on Ender, and Bean was pushed to the background to allow that. It still grated on me to see one of my favorite characters reduced to wallpaper.
Bottom line: this movie isn’t awful, but it isn’t great either. As I said, if you really liked the book, you’ll probably want to see the movie at some point. You probably won’t be shouting at the screen in rage the way I did at Starship Troopers. But unless you liked it better than I did, you won’t be watching it twice.
But suing to make the theaters reduce the price? Really?
Joshua Thompson loves the movies.
But he hates the prices theaters charge for concessions like pop and candy.
This week, the 20-something security technician from Livonia decided to do something about it: He filed a class action in Wayne County Circuit Court against his local AMC theater in hopes of forcing theaters statewide to dial down snack prices.
"He got tired of being taken advantage of," said Thompson’s lawyer, Kerry Morgan of Wyandotte. "It’s hard to justify prices that are three- and four-times higher than anywhere else."
I usually don’t go to movies. Believe it or not, since I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to get motion sickness in a theater if there is a lot of action on the screen. It’s weird but that happens to me (also happens with first person shooter games).
But, when I did go, I never went to the concession stand. I agree with Thompson, prices are too high and I’m not willing to pay them. However, I’m also not willing to use the force of government to “force” prices down, for heaven sake.
The way consumers make this point is to quit buying the stuff. Yeah, it takes will. It takes perseverance. It takes a collective action over time. But what it should never take is bringing government in to it.
The suit accused AMC theaters of violating the Michigan Consumer Protection Act by charging grossly excessive prices for snacks.
The suit seeks refunds for customers who were overcharged, a civil penalty against the theater chain and any other relief Judge Kathleen Macdonald might grant.
So who gets to decide what is a fair price? A judge? Or the consumer? How does the consumer decide what a “fair price” is? By not paying what he or she considers to be an unfair price. That’s how. Not by going to the state and attempting to use its power to force a lower price.
No one forces anyone to go to a movie, pay what they’re asking or eat their snacks. Everyone of those is an individual decision and choice. Just as we decide not to buy other products we can’t afford or think are priced too high, it is up to us to make the same sort of decision at a theater concession stand. If enough refuse to buy, it will eventually come to the attention of the theater chains. That’s how pricing is set by markets (you know, all that talk about pricing signals and such?). And the state has no business being involved in that system whatsoever, either legislatively or judicially (and the law suit probably won’t go anywhere, I understand that, but I’m addressing the mindset).
I have to admit upfront that I have a conflict of interest on this, but the Immersive Media cameras from my sisters company are amazing. Throw in that it gives some of the best views of the devastation in Haiti and I am kind of speechless. Go ahead and take a trip with them through Port au Prince and drag the view to look around in a full 360 degree view from a moving vehicle.
In addition to taking you into this disaster the potential applications seem rather large to me. Check it out. You can grab the screen while it is still or when playing and drag the view wherever you want.
The initial commercial applications are kind of obvious, but I am curious about the applications to entertainment. Specifically movies. Like most new ways of filming I expect the initial efforts to be gimmicky, and low in actual value other than the novelty. However, imagine watching movies with an interactive ability for the viewer to shift the camera view from a first person point of view. The directors focus becomes less of an issue, and all of what is happening in view of whoever a character is becomes part of the story. Talk about taking the idea behind something like Vantage Point to a new level. Other interactive technologies could be combined with more impact.
You can view more footage of Haiti and look into the technology at http://www.immersivemedia.com/haiti/
Update: The autoplay was annoying, and the embed for the other footage seems to be having a problem at the moment, so I included a link to a video instead until the flash embed starts working again.
The short review is simple. If you are really devoted to the current Star Trek canon, you won’t like it. For everyone else, you’ll probably like this movie. Taken on it’s own, it is a good movie, albeit with a few minor problem here and there. And most people won’t even notice the problems.
The acting is very good. Chris Pine’s performance as the young Jim Kirk is especially well done. When the guy is on the screen, you just have to look at him. And he has the character of the young Kirk down pat: Brash, womanizing, risk-taking, and self-confident. Karl Urban’s Dr. McCoy is also well played, and we even got an “I’m a doctor, not a physicist!” out of him. Zachary Quinto expresses the conflict between emotions and logic that plagues his character with surprising subtlety. Zoe Saldana’s Uhura is, for practically the first time in 40 years, an interesting character, with a story and a life.
The dialogue is sharper and wittier than we’re used to seeing in a Star Trek movie, and the wit pops up in unexpected places, like Capt. Pike’s first encounter with Nero, the Romulan villain of the piece: “I’m Captain Christopher Pike, of the Federation starship Enterprise.” “Hi, Christopher, I’m Nero.” The back-and-forth banter between the Spock and McCoy characters that was so much a part of the original series is presented well in the new movie.
The action in the film is practically non-stop, with hardly any time to catch your breath. So, the film is tightly scripted, which makes the 2.5 hour running time seem like much less.
Based on the above, I rate the movie very highly.
I did mention some problems though, and I’d like to address them. I can’t do that, though, without giving away some spoilers.
Do not read any more, unless you’re willing to encounter serious spoilers.
This is your last warning.