Episode 279: Ender’s Game: I Can’t Open My Mouth without Condemning It, And Yet I Like It

The Overthinkers tackle the film adaptation of Ender’s Game.

Ben Adams, Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Jordan Stokes overthink the film adaptation of Ender’s Game.

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Your Panel

Further Reading

Alternative Titles

  • An Animal House Solution to an Ender’s Game Problem
  • The Answer is 40% a Bunch of Cowards
  • You Must Be The Genocide You Want to See in The World
  • Ender is like Mr. Holland Times 1,000,000
  • Graf Tries to Send a FAX… And Can’t.
  • You Gotta Show Off The Cool Lake, You Gotta Show Off the Product-Placed Audi"
  • Equal Opportunity Genociding
  • No Irish Need Apply to The Fleet

29 Comments on “Episode 279: Ender’s Game: I Can’t Open My Mouth without Condemning It, And Yet I Like It”

  1. Devonin #

    As regards the Demosthenes and Locke issue: While it is absolutely the case that the storyline should have been cut from the film (After all it takes place over about 6 months instead of almost 5 years) I think it is -definitely- more plausible that their storyline would have happened than Ender’s, despite Pete’s claims to the contrary.

    It’s established literally on the first page of the novel that Peter and Val are equally as intelligent as Ender. They are several years older than him. If we’re expected to believe that he is capable of learning extremely advanced science and tactics, and then leading an entire war fleet pushed beyond his physical endurance by the age of 11, the idea that Peter and Val, older, more educated, more socially adept, could accomplish as much back on Earth seems pretty reasonable to me.

    You’ll also remember that it took years of spending virtually all of their free time on this project for them to get where they got. They spent months putting articles and debates onto the nets with throwaway identities seeing which elements of their writing appear childish, and which are respected, and adapting accordingly.

    We’ve had, in real life, kids the age of Peter become internationally best-selling authors, and that’s even without a claim of preternatural intelligence that puts them among the thousand smartest people in the world.


  2. Redem #

    To touch on some point bring up I’m incine to think that Ender’s game ain’t that well know outside from the U.S (I’m in Quebec and hardly heard of it)


  3. Lavanya #

    “Machiavelli talks about being loved and being feared, he never talks about being right.”

    That was a pretty good line, Overthinkers. Pithy but true.

    I agree that there was a heavy post-9/11 vibe to the movie, with the feeling set up by that lingering shot of the “Never Forget” poster in the nurse’s office at the start of the film. Plus, rather than being a sprawling empire, the Fornics/Buggers are confined to a single desert planet that’s poor in resources bar apparently what can be used to build a quantatively-strong military.

    It’s also yet another installment of Hollywood blockbusters being dubious to the idea of drone warfare, but for how long? It wasn’t too long ago that Morgan Freeman told Batman that total surveillance was too much power for any man, and just last summer you had Samuel L. Jackson offhandedly mention SHIELD spied on every phone in the world as just another tool in their arsenal.

    (Speaking of, any chance for some overthinkingit on “Persons of Interest”? It’s occupying an interesting place in the zeitgeist right now, with the Snowden leaks.)


  4. lofgren #

    My impression was that Peter set himself up as Rush Limbaugh, and then rode a wave of reactionary populism to power, rather than doing any actual campaigning.


    • phizzled Member #

      not to spoil it if you haven’t read them, but Shadow of the Hegemon and Shadow Puppets explains how he actually came to power. He was less Rush Limbaugh and more Bill Nye, the Science Guy or Mr. Rogers (including Roger’s military career).


  5. Jasin #

    Alright guys, you mentioned Bonzo’s surprisingly small stature, but we need to go deep here, there is Overthinking that needs to be done for this.

    Is it just to make the audience respect Ender as a commander more because we don’t have much else to go on? Tall = Respect, Short = Loser ? Or is it the director’s way of making the bathroom scene more monstrous without having to get brutal (Ender beat up a short guy, what an a-hole!)?

    On a separate note, why of all races does Bean have to look Hispanic? Is this a future where racial slurs have been repossessed as proud nicknames?


    • amber #

      My first thought on seeing Bonzo was that the filmmakers were trying to composite the book characters Bonzo and Rose the Nose, by combining Bonzo’s personality with Rose’s … nose size.

      Book-Rose is faintly ridiculous, so if film-Bonzo is meant to be a book-Bonzo/Rose composite, the filmmakers might have intended the height difference to invoke that quality. (Although Rose is ridiculous by his own design, a class clown type.)


    • phizzled Member #

      I honestly don’t think the director read the book. Beating a smaller, if older opponent, does not convey overcoming the impossible in a way that makes the fight part of Ender’s testing. It’s just, hey, I fought a guy who might be stronger than me, but probably isn’t.
      I hate that Ender became the standard America style action hero rather than a creative kid who never sees failure as possible.

      Bean, who is actually my favorite character, is supposed to be Greek in origin. I never knew any Greeks growing up, so I don’t know if that tone matches my expectations of olive skin, but I was okay with them not whitewashing him. (Less okay, honestly, with Dink not being Dutch, but I guess explaining why no actual black students were in battle school would have been harder?)


      • Pasteur #

        Re: black students, I think that’s a miscasting on the part of Alai. Alai is a black muslim.


        • phizzled #

          I think, in another controversy avoiding turn, that gets you away from Ender’s “my grandfather would have owned you” bit and from the Tea party/Birther obsession with black people being Muslims. I thought Alai’s casting was a more reasonable…colorshifting, I’ll call it, than Dink, only because I can’t think of why else they would have done it.


          • fenzel OTI Staff #

            I mean, in the Robocop reboot, Anne Lewis is being played by Omar from the Wire. So it could be worse.

            It seems that as long as you at least maintain the general diversity quotient, you can mix and match freely in these things.

      • fenzel OTI Staff #

        I’m not convinced the actor playing Bean is actually Hispanic. His name is Aramis Knight, which doesn’t prove anything, and while he has played the thrilling character of “Hispanic Boy” in one thing or another, that’s not really proof either. There’s no mention of who his parents are or what his ethnicity is on any of the movie bio sites.

        Maybe he’s Hispanic, maybe he’s half and half, maybe he’s Greek — maybe he’s just a Taylor Lautner white kid who happens to be tan. It’s hard to say.


        • Devonin #

          Bean the character was half Greek and half Igbo (who are a people from modern-day Nigeria) so it’s pretty likely that he wouldn’t have looked “white” in the Greek sense. And pretty likely that they wouldn’t have been able to find somebody who matched that particular combination of ethnicities to play him.

          Honestly, unless somebody’s ethnicity factors into their character development or the plot, I find it hard to get too upset when changes are made in (one hopes) the name of casting superior actors regardless of their ethnicity. (See also: failing to cast a Maori or at least New Zealander as Mazer, in the name of casting Sir Ben Kingsley)

          I had no problem with Viola Davis playing the White Male Major Anderson either.


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      I think the point of Bonzo being small but jacked (did anyone else notice how jacked he was for a kid?) was that, on first impression, he looked strong and dangerous, but when he was lying there dying, he was just a child. It’s useful to be reminded that the people Ender murders (sorry, kills by accident) in school are _children_.

      Ender does not see them as such, as they are his peers, but given that the camera is with a very high probability going to approach the story as an external viewer, then the story must adapt, the function fitting the form — in much the same way the Lord of the Rings movies must spend more time on Aragorn’s view of the world if they are going to show battle scenes from very un-Hobbitlike CGI crane shots.

      Of course the actor who played Bonzo was 19, which is of course a bit much. And that compounds it — having him be taller would just make it worse. If Ender is killing like a 6′ 22-year-old child abuser, that loses a lot of the point of the scene in any interpretation of it.


      • Devonin #

        Really? Wasn’t the point of the scene supposed to be “Even when Ender is facing what are supposed to be completely insurmountable odds, he not only wins, he dominates”?

        I mean, I’ll quote Dink from after the fight ends: “You took him apart. I thought you were dead meat, the way he grabbed you. But you took him apart…He had twenty centimetres on you, and you made him look like a crippled cow standing there chewing her cud.”

        I didn’t get -any- of that from the scene in the movie.


        • fenzel OTI Staff #

          That’s what I mean — Bonzo’s casting is meant to fit the way the Bonzo fight scene works in the movie, not the way it works in the book.

          The two are very different.

          The movie is much more concerned than the book is with stepping back and looking at the big picture of what this institution is doing to these children — which in turn is about what military/industrial economies do to children in general.

          The book is much more concerned with the universality of brutality — Bonzo’s death is less of an avoidable social cost and more a tragic-ish but necessary product of a basic problem of existence.

          In that way, the movie is more about the experience of reading Ender’s Game than it is about the same things Ender’s Game is about.

          And given the challenges of the project, it was always likely to do that — the director could have made the very bold and artsy choice of filming the movie “from Ender’s perspective,” but this is a big-budget action adventure for young people. It is very likely to be filmed conventionally, from the third person.

          Thus LOTR is more about Kings and less about Hobbits, the Hunger Games is more about how Katniss is awesome and less about how she is tragic, and the Twilight series is less about being a boring and unhappy person and more about stupid CGI monster fights.


          • Jasin #

            good points Fenzel.

            I guess when you only have so much time in a movie you have to focus on a couple idea. Making Bonzo weak on screen puts more emphasis on the idea that Ender is a powerful killer who feels remorse than the idea that Ender is an underdog who beats the odds.
            Looking at it that way, i gotta give kudos to the director for picking the darker, less common theme.

  6. Andrew B #

    “Death Blossom” is from The Last Starfighter; the “Awesome Blossom” is a Chili’s appetizer.


    • Stokes OTI Staff #

      You know, you say that, and yet the Last Starfighter sequence is awesome, and the Chili’s appetizer makes me crave death.


      • Andrew B #

        I want to disagree with you, but your point makes too much sense.


  7. phizzled Member #

    Question for everyone who has read, say, Ender’s Shadow:
    were you able to suspend your disbelief and enjoy the movie after 1) seeing Bean in Ender’s launch group or 2) having Han Solo tell everyone that even though Bean was on the shuttle, Ender Wiggin was the only person on the ship with a brain?


    • Devonin #

      My first thought wasn’t a lack of disbelief suspension from putting Bean in Ender’s Launch group so much as “They’ve just made making Ender’s Shadow impossible.” Followed by the ending of the film making me say “They’ve just made making ANY other movies in this series impossible”

      I don’t understand why they would literally invalidate every storyline outside Ender’s Game when they didn’t even know how this movie would do.


      • fenzel OTI Staff #

        Consider how action/adventure movie franchises generally work for a moment.

        Action/adventure movie franchises are character-driven. The reason audiences come back for the second or third installment of a series is because they like the characters and have bonded with them — it is similar to sit-coms, which provide a sort of surrogate family experience within a person’s lifestyle. That’s why people watch sitcoms for years.

        This is very different from fantasy and sci-fi books, where people are often much more drawn to the world-building and to the extended cast and less to the main characters specifically.

        Nobody wants to watch _Elektra_. Well, that’s a bad example, because so few people wanted to watch _Daredevil_ anyway. But nobody wants to watch _Catwoman_. Nobody is making a Moneypenny spinoff. Nobody is making a Teen Titans movie. The only thing Jimmy Olsen is getting top billing on is that Spin Doctor’s song.

        There’s not much of a story-driven reason for Loki to still be in Thor 2 after being in both Thor 1 and the Avengers — oh, except people really like Loki and the Tom Hiddleston is awesome, so yeah, let’s put him in the movie, and if it causes problems for the story we’ll deal with it.

        Nobody is going to make a movie that follows the adventures of Leo Getz through the Lethal Weapon extended universe, even if he turns out to be a compelling character. But you could totally write a book or a play about that (note to self…).

        They were never going to make an Ender’s Game movie franchise where the subsequent movies break focus on Ender and instead follow the other characters around. It wouldn’t be delivering on what people want and expect from movie sequels — more time with their favorite characters from the first movie.

        Add to that the subsequent movies were still going to be called “Ender’s Game” — like “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” — or like how subsequent seasons of “Game of Thrones” are still called “Game of Thrones.” Movies and TV shows are indexed by title, not by author. To connect one to the other so people actually know this is the same series, you should use the same name.

        This means Ender is going to be the main character in all the movies… Unless he becomes a dad and his kids are the main characters…. In which case you have a Crystal Skull situation. So eff that.

        Anyway, the point is, if they were ever going to tell the extended story of Bean, the smart and necessary way to do it in a movie is to interweave it as a B or C plot in a movie that focuses on Ender.

        Yes, this defeats the purpose of the book, to an extent, but “defeating the purpose of the book” has been the necessary evil (and is it really evil?) for the entire development of this cinematic project.

        So if you like Ender’s Shadow, you are not less likely now than you ever were to see parts of its story played out. But they will be moved around in continuity and chopped up into “Ender’s Game: Speaker for the Dead.” Yes, this will ruin them for hardcore fans. But it’s pretty much the only way it’s going to happen.

        Or else they’ll just call the second Ender’s Game “Ender’s Shadow” and just do the “Speaker for the Dead” plotline as the A plot of that movie, with Bean as a supporting character. Except it will probably be Petra, not Bean, who is the focus of the Ender’s Shadow plotline, with Bean as support for her. This will confuse people briefly and infuriate a bunch of folks if it happens, but it still seems like one of the better options.

        I mean, let’s face it — even if Bean is a compelling character, switching the series perspective to him is super-gimmicky and forced. It’s a gimmick that works in sci-fi worldbuilding, but it doesn’t seem like you absolutely MUST reproduce it in the movies. It’s total Boba Fett syndrome — yeah, Boba Fett is cool. But is he really THAT cool? Like, whole multiple movies to himself cool? (No, he’s not.)


        • fenzel OTI Staff #

          I should correct myself — from a cursory glance at IMDB, it seems like a Teen Titans movie may indeed be in development. We’ll see how that works out.


        • Devonin #

          But what else can they even do? The war is over, the Formics are dead, Ender has left to the depths of space, alone.

          Nothing is said at any point in the film that things aren’t sunshine and roses back on Earth.

          I’m at a loss to even consider ANY kind of story that is even REMOTELY based on the books that they could make that would be at all worth paying attention to.

          Ender’s Shadow about -anybody- won’t really work because nobody we’ve seen and should be expected to care about has been apart from Ender for more than a week or two. He’s in Salamander with Petra, he’s in Dragon for what feels like a week or two, and then he’s off to command school.

          Speaker for the Dead without Valentine and “Other established human colonies on Formic worlds” doesn’t even make sense.


        • phizzled #

          I guess part of my problem is that Bean is the morally complex character Ender can’t be.

          Spoilers for like five more books:
          Bean is smarter than Ender, and Ender is the only other kidnin the schoolnsimilar to him on tests of intellect. Bean also doesn’t have Ender’s gullibility, so his willingness to participate in simulations actually implies he has agency. This movie prevents showing that side of the story, much as it made Ender’s fight with Bonzo a fluke rather than skill. It’s simpler, but it loses everything that makes Ender a better potential commander of the fleet than Bonzonor any other student.


  8. fenzel OTI Staff #

    Because I promised this on the podcast, here’s a new one. I invite revisions or competing versions:

    In Ender’s Fields, the dog tags blow
    Among the poppies, row on row,
    Of wingmen slain — from out the sky
    Plunged Toms from cats in which we’d fly —
    So tossed from ship to sea below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We high-fived, taunted, stood nose to nose,
    Rode our motorcycles, now we lie
    In Ender’s Fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe,
    Toward you from sweaty palms we set
    The volleyball; So strike it high-
    -Way to the danger zone-
    ‘Lest not rest Goose and Maverick’s bones
    In Ender’s Fields.


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