Ender’s Game and the problem of media adaptation

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Ender's GameAfter the premiere of Ender’s Game‘s first trailer, I began to worry about something. Regardless of how promising it looks, they all run into the same problem. It’s the problem of the interpretation. It is also part of the reason why I’m wary of the film adaptation. I love the book, due to its interesting portrayal of various issues that arise with war and the general online and political climate that we have now. But the movie has a lot of issues to overcome.

The problem pops up with any adaptation. It also arises for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it’s a matter of hardware constraints that force a reinterpretation like any number of film or game adaptations, include E.T. the Game. Sometimes it’s just lack of exposure to or love of the source material, you could see this in any comic or graphic novel-based adaptation to film, TV or games that feels heartless. Sometimes it’s a reinterpretation that’s meant to be bad, a la “Springtime for Hitler” from The Producers or any of Uwe Boll’s game-based films. And sometimes the adaptation is largely exceedingly faithful to certain aspects of the source material to try to cover up a poorly intended revision, like the revision from Harry to Rose in Christoph Gans’s adaptation of Silent Hill where the change was the fact that Gans thought Harry’s actions was womanly. It can also fall apart due to misinterpretation through the integration of the original writer’s personal politics. There  are other reasons, but it’s time to return to topic of Ender’s Game. 

The problem I’m worried about is the last one. The preview looks incredible. It looks rather faithful to the book, which could be partially due to Orson Scott Card‘s involvement in the film. So with as close as it looks and how good it looks, there has to be something wrong with it. Either there’s something wrong with it or there’s something wrong with the interpretation of the story through the current politics of the novelist.

In some regards, the latter is already happening with threatened boycotts, not on the flaws of the source material but based off the anti-gay politics of Orson Scott Card. But there are also a lot of ways in which the movie could fail in its storytelling, including the possible inclusion of Card’s homophobia that – at least to my memory – had not been of the source material. Sure, there was at least one character who acted kind of like a caricature of effeminate, not necessarily gay, men. However, the character was defended by Ender and also played a role with some level of importance rather than being relegated to being a joke.

One of the possible misinterpretations would be if the story was approached from media effects. What if the interpretation was that Ender was violent because of the games and other media formats. The reason why this worries me is the fact that, just within the realm of video games, the argument has been a popular one since roughly 1994 when the controversy spilling out from Mortal Kombat forced the gaming industry to start labeling games with ratings. It is a compelling reading to take, partially because it’s an easy one even though it overlooks at least a quarter of the world building and half of the character development of the book. I could go on for days about why that’s wrong, but media effects will be covered another time due to the scope of the issue.

Another thing would break the story is if Ender’s older siblings becoming influential bloggers is written out – something that Card actually said he did when writing the original screenplay. The fact is that storyline contributes a lot to the story. It shapes much of the public reaction to the battle school and the government’s shift from support to condemnation. Without the blog culture and his siblings, Ender’s identity as a hero isn’t called into question, meaning that one of the biggest issues that makes the story as compelling as it is completely ignored. Now a way around covering the blog culture and Ender’s siblings would be to blend the story of the books Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow. If both Ender and Bean are brought into focus with the same level of importance, the Earth story arcs would be less important.

Then there’s the Gavin Hood-related fear. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a good writer and director – when he has the right project to work on. Then there’s the wrong projects. Examples of the right projects for him include Tsotsi and Rendition. A shining example of the wrong project for him was a pseudo-adaptation, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. His quality for adaptations does leave a lot to be desired, but could still work out.

I hope that Ender’s Game actually is as good as the book. From what’s been revealed so far, it actually might. Or at least it’ll be an interesting take on the character and events. It just has a lot to overcome. And I hope it does overcome the obstacles ahead of it because it does have the potential to be great.

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  • Valentine

    Actually, I think Card has said he’s been very hands off for this project. He hasn’t even read the script. I believe he said this was the only way the movie would ever get made.

  • Jonathan

    Actually, the work on the script started off sometime in 1998 when rumors of an Ender’s Game movie really started up. The original script, Orson Scott Card did actually work on.

    • Valentine

      But that’s not the script the movie is based on. The script the Ender’s Game movie was made with is written by Gavin Hood, the director.