I have a couple confessions to make.
The first is one that comes to no surprise to those who associate with me on a regular basis: I’m a geek. I grew up giving Vulcan greetings to my friends and swearing at them in Klingon. By the time the Ronald D. Moore version of Battlestar Galactica came out, I had already watched each episode of the original series several times. Don’t get me started about Doctor Who.
However, one of my all-time favorite novels from my childhood was Ender’s Game. I’ve always been an aspiring writer, as long as I can remember, but when I set down Ender’s Game after that first awed read, I felt blown out of the water. This was actual writing, original genius, the kind of authorship that inspires millions.
Then I learned that author Orson Scott Card, a lifelong Mormon, is an outspoken homophobe. He’s been spewing vile nonsense for years, such as his assertion that queerness is the sad result of childhood sexual abuse. Oh, well, I thought. I’ll just check his books out of the library instead of purchasing them.
And then Hollywood turned it into a movie, and that brings me to my second confession.
I went and saw the film in theaters.
It’s been hard to miss the effort to boycott the film, instigated in response to Card’s long, homophobic history. I was firmly resolved to skip the film, though my decades-long obsession with the series of novels gave me a feverish, kind of morbid curiosity. What would it be like to see these intense, fantastic characters on the big screen?
Of course, it’s come out that Card will not actually benefit from ticket sales, so I felt somewhat justified in satisfying that curiosity. I’m glad I did, for at least one reason: I can put the minds of queer fans of the novels at ease.
You see, it’s a terrible movie.
If you had never read the books, the most you probably would have done would be to shrug and write it off as mediocre. However, any die-hard geeks in the audience would be horrified to watch.
In the novel, the main character Ender (a tactical savant by age 6) is selected by an international fleet to defend the earth and the human race from extinction at the hands (or rather, claws) of the insectoid Formics, determined to colonize our world. The book covers his years of training, in which Ender is isolated from family and friends, pitted against fellow child geniuses, and manipulated by his superiors to take drastic and horrific actions without his knowledge, all in the name of the greater good. It’s an intense and stressful book to read.
The film has almost none of these elements. Characters are rewritten to seem silly (the depiction of Bean was a particular outrage), while others have changed dimensions that change the tone of the story. Far from isolated, Ender finds staunch friendship in fellow Battle School trainee Petra. In fact, their relationship worryingly contains overtones that could be construed as prepubescent beginnings of romance.
More devastating is the complete omission of several gut-punching revelations designed to unsettle the reader. By the time you finish the book, you are horrified not just by what the children are forced to do but by what murderous little monsters they seem to have become. None of this is included in the film, and instead we are left with an action-adventure film for teens with poor dialogue. While the cast is mostly very good, with few notable exceptions, they are left with clunky and often cheesy lines to deliver. The ending was given a completely different feel after so many little changes to mitigate the intensity of the novel. My childhood favorite had been ruined.
I had a hard time not walking out.
It’s not surprising that Hollywood can completely fail at film adaptations of beloved books. In this case, however, it was sort of a relief. Don’t go, and not just because you want to make sure that Hollywood takes note that homophobia will not be tolerated. Queer nerds don’t have to feel conflicted, simply because the movie is too bad to want to see.