Book vs. Movie Battle: Ender's Game
Beware: I will avoid as many spoilers as I can but there will likely be a few.
Ender's Game is the first book in a series about a futuristic, dystopian society in which America is governed by a Hegemony, the world military overseen by the Strategos, and the planet is much more overpopulated than it is today. So much so that, to preserve resources, parents are only allowed to have two children in most countries, and children who pass the right tests are taken into the battle school, beginning at age 6. The entire world, for the most part, is held together by alliances hanging by a thread, under threat by an alien race known as the Formics; the battle school is meant to train children to fight against this alien race which has, by the time of the novel, invaded earth twice.
Enter Andrew "Ender" Wiggin. A technically illegal third child, which the government asked and authorized his parents to have in the hopes that he would be just as genius but more suited for battle school than his two older siblings. After dealing with his earth school bully in a rather sick version of a test, Ender is formally invited to the Battle School by Colonel Graff. While surprised that he has a choice, Ender is made to feel like his continued presence with his family will cause them social shame and discomfort, so he agrees to go.
At the Battle School - a space station manned by teachers and soldiers from every country - Ender is essentially left to sort out his own social, school, fighting, and emotional problems. Although the teachers and Colonel Graff frequently state that his is so he will learn leadership, strategy, and overall enhance his military genius and creativity, it does result in the death of one bullying classmate as well as physical injuries to many others who choose to fight against Ender out of jealousy, including to Ender himself. Fortunately, he also meets a handful of students who, although they have mixed feelings towards him, admire and become loyal to Ender. The most important of these is arguably Bean, the boy who is chosen by Colonel Graff to be the backup commander of the fleet in the event that Ender should break under the pressure. Ender and Bean first encounter each other when Ender is prematurely given his own army at the Battle School to command. Bean is one of the members, and like Ender was promoted very early. Also like Ender, he tested very high and is considered a genius. Ender treats Bean like Colonel Graff treated Ender - sets him up as the best in the army, so other boys will be jealous and malicious and Bean's limits will be tested. Bean is one of only two characters in the novel that is set up as Ender's equal intellectually.
Throughout Battle School, and continuing when Ender is promoted to Command School, the primary method of learning and practice is to play war games. In Battle School, it's in a zero-gravity environment with mock stars and planets, flash suits, and guns that are essentially laser beams that signal the suits to freeze up. A better version of laser tag. In Command School, it changes to video game style, with Ender having command of larger numbers of ships and people, and much more complicated environments. At the very end, Ender makes a difficult decision in the game that he thinks is his final exam, and it results in the extinction (for now) of the alien species. When he finds out that it was never a game and the adults lied to him, he is deeply effected emotionally, and also humbled.
Ender showed the right amounts of creativity, independence, strength, determination, genius, strategy, adaptive ability, and empathy. Qualities that result in the reader picturing an adult person; Ender is only 12 by the end of the novel.
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I don't care if I pass your test, I don't care if I follow your rules. If you can cheat, so can I. I won't let you beat me unfairly - I'll beat you unfairly first.
Ender Wiggin— Orson Scott Card
For the most part, the film version is technically very well-aligned as far as the actual plot is concerned. The most notable difference is the ages of Ender and his siblings and classmates. His character in the movie appears to be around 13 from the start. In addition, Ender's personality is much different on-screen, as one might expect of a boy in puberty versus one who is only six.
Bean and Ender's meeting and interaction is different as well, with Bean being in the same army as Ender from the beginning instead of being his subordinate, thus leading to a different dynamic between the two characters. The whole film moves at a much faster pace than the book. There are fewer scenes concerning Ender's brother Peter and his temperament and general attitude about the world.
Essentially, the movie can be summed up with the following: Pubescent, creative boy Ender chooses to attend Battle School when he learns that he has qualified. He immediately alienates a classmate or two, while earning the hero worship of several others. Excelling, he is promoted quickly and must deal with his stress and emotions privately and stoically. When given his own army he wins every battle he fights, even when the odds are severely stacked against him. He is promoted to Command School, taught and tested by the legendary Mazer Rackham, and defeats the Formics in his "final exam."
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A Clip from the Film
Ender as Portrayed in the MovieClick thumbnail to view full-size
It's Worth Noting
That Peter and Valentine Wiggin have a large portion of the book dedicated to how they begin spending their time. Peter hatches a scheme to use the nets to influence political debates and gain confidence and an audience, so that when he makes a play for the office of the Hegemon, people won't be so indignant that such a young boy could be so perceptive and influential. Under the pseudonyms of Locke and Demosthenes, they reveal military and political power plays and gain power of their own.
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For Your Comparing Pleasure
Ender is 6 at the beginning
Ender is in puberty at the beginning
Ender's brother Peter has a temper and terrorizes Ender out of jealousy.
Peter is rarely pictured, the most important scenes cut out
Ender is totally alienated in the beginning and earns friends very slowly
Ender befriends Alai and Bean almost immediately
Ender does not meet Bean until he receives his own army halfway through the book
Bean appears in the very beginning
Peter and Valentine have their own side chapters in which we see them working to influence world politics to set the stage for Peter becoming Hegemon
Peter and Valentine are only pictured at the very beginning, and valentine briefly pictured halfway through
Ender is emotional but takes great effort to hide this from others, and shows only the lack of interest, pride, or confidence to others
Ender is very emotional and always looks like he is about to cry. He walks hunched over in the beginning as if he is always afraid and unsure of himself
The movie was released in 2013, and rotten tomatoes has it graded at 60%, with most critics deciding that it wasn't nearly as thought provoking as the book, but still offers a decent amount of sci-fi fun. 66% of viewers indicated that they liked it. You can see the entire information page here.
On the other hand, Common Sense Media has the novel ranked at 5/5 stars; Barnes and Noble gives it 4.5/5, and Goodreads offers up 4.3/5. There are plenty of places to view reviews and opinions.
In this writer's (and avid reader's) opinion, this particular novel should never have been made into a film. It's not just science fiction, its dystopian, and ironically enough it was published in 1985, the title year of another famous dystopian novel. There are abstract concepts abound in the book, from familial issues and sibling rivalry, to politics and world events, the economy and world resources, education standards, and so on. If you also include the depth of the character development that does into ANY novel, especially well-written one, a film simply does not have the time nor the true ability to accurately depict every important event, all character development, and all abstract concepts relevant to the plot. The result, as we see in the Ender's Game film, is under-developed characters and a rushed, confused plot, leaving the audience with the vague feeling of something missing.
However, from a strictly sci-fi and film point of view, the movie could have been a lot worse. It does well handling the futuristic tech and plot visually and conceptually. My advice would be to see the movie first, get all the information it has to offer, and then read the novel. It should feel like you're getting to finally access the deleted scenes. The movie does not ADD information that is not in the novel or change any fundamentals, so it will not truly ruin the novel. If you read the novel first, you may not be able to stomach the movie.
It's Worth Noting (#2)
That after Ender's Game the series splits. Ender's story is covered in one set of novels, once he leaves Earth. The other set of novels follows Bean back on Earth, dealing with the aftermath and political fallout of the Formic Wars. The two stories have not yet reconnected, but the author has announced that they are intended to link back up in Shadows Alive, a novel in the Bean series (Shadow Series) that will pick up after the 4th Ender novel leaves off.