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February 17, 2017

VGFlicks: Ender's Game (Part 3)

Part 1 one saw lengthy introduction to the story, Part 2 was most of Ender’s time at the Battle School, now we follow him at Command School, where he is learning to lead his team into battle against the Formics. Thank God large-scale simulation games exist, huh?

"No, you cannot use this system to play your video games.
I know you're gonna ask someday, the answer will always be no.
Same for anything else you'd like to watch with this."

I swear, this entire scene is impressive.
Ender, now accompanied of Bean, Alai, Petra, Dink and Bernard, is ready to start the actual tests. Every session in the simulator will feel like a real battle, each ship must be treated as if it contained a human with thoughts, and ideas, and feelings, and a family. Ender can’t just act like every ship is expendable. The scenes in the simulator are extremely impressive, with hundreds of ships flying around and shooting. It’s really a marvel to look at. Graff and his group keep adding more realism to each new simulation, bringing it closer to reality. There is always something new to take into consideration.


Oh damn, that giant ship blew up! Crap, this simulation was a failure.
Oof, good thing it was just a simulation, right? Yes, right...
It is a very demanding position, since Ender is telling his team what to do, and they then delegate the roles to the thousands of ships in the human army. In one of the simulations, he makes a major mistake that results in a lot of ally ships exploding, the simulation ending as a failure. He gets an earful from both Graff and Mazer Rackham after this one, told again that he must never treat his troops as mere expendables.

"Everything is going perfectly according to plan?"
"Yes. I kept silent about the truth behind this one simulation.
Not even a single thinly-veiled bit of foreshadowing."
"And you're sure the millions of kids who had to read
our book in school aren't gonna know about the twist?"
The training continues for a moment, but with the threat of really real Formics coming closer and closer by the day, Graff has no other choice but to proceed with Ender’s final exam. An entire panel of wartime strategists and veterans of the Formic wars will be viewing this simulation, which has the highest degree of realism and where every loss will cost Ender greatly… Wow, I’m glad I never had such stressful exams at school. Ender’s promotion to Commander of the entire human fleet is on the line, after all. The exam takes place closer to the aliens’ home planet than ever before. Ender’s crew go behind their computers.

I swear, this large-scale thing is so awesome, it makes me want to play.

The armada of ships moves towards the many Formic motherships, but something’s odd: The motherships aren’t moving. Like they’re instead… waiting. The human armada launches its assault, and the Formics respond with their swarms. It looks like the situation is against the humans, but then Petra fires the Little Doctor bomb into the swarm and destroys a large amount of the alien forces. However, they were actually aiming for the Formics’ planet. Petra needs a lot of time for the Little Doctor to recharge, so Ender orders his smaller ships to protect Petra’s main ship and cannons.

Much like his winning strategy in the Battle School’s zero-gravity room, the small ships around Petra’s ship go down by the dozens, possibly more, but the center one is left unscathed. The big transporters are also in danger of going down in this battle, but Ender orders his crew to keep up with current orders. He asks them to clear up a path between the Little Doctor’s ship and the Formic planet. They venture into the planet’s atmosphere, and drill a hole through the Formic swarms, clearing a path for Petra, who shoots the Little Doctor right onto the planet.

Pop goes the world. Alright, it's the Formic world,
but it's a world regardless.
The bomb goes off when it hits the surface, and its effect spreads, leaving a burning, destroyed mess on every square foot. It is a thoroughly horrifying and unpleasant thing to look at, as if these humans were watching the Earth suffer the same fate. The simulation then glitches out, giving the command team enough time to realize that they’ve won, they have aced this exam, and it’s time to celebrate! Although the ominous council of colonels doesn’t seem to be nearly as enthusiastic about Ender’s success. Ender and his team realize something is wrong, and when the Colonels restore the connection to show the simulated planet, it is but a floating mass of charcoal and lava, all shown with disturbing realism. And when his teachers come to congratulate him with a simple “we won”, Ender’s doubts only grow greater.

"I am become Wiggin, destroyer of worlds."

As Mazer Rackham soon explains, this last simulation… wasn’t actually one. The ships in the fight were all real, the pilots who were killed in the assault weren’t just fakes, and the Formic planet really has gone boom bye bye. The Queens on that planet are all dead, and thus the opposing alien species has been annihilated. Ender has won that war. By eradicating an entire species. He… doesn’t take it well. And Graff’s attempts at putting a heroic spin on the situation only make Ender angrier, as he is convinced that the reason the Formics weren’t attacking at the start of the not-actually-a-simulation was because they were merely defending themselves.

As the kid grows more and more agitated, he is injected something and passes out, and brought to his room. Petra stays with him in there. Ender then dreams, he sees again the final scenes from the Mind Game, the castle and the giant sphere with Valentine in it. Realiziung the signification of that scene, he wakes up and hurries out of his room, saying he needs to go outside. Petra follows him with oxygen packs, and the two reach the world outside of the human base in the Formic colony… to find themselves in front of a large Formic “castle”. Or at least, I suppose that’s what it’s meant to be like. Huh, so apparently, these aliens were able to “hack” into Ender’s game and memory to show him exactly where to go. Before they knew they would die. Or before they knew that he would get to Command School. Er… Sheesh, those aliens are psychics or something. Maybe they should become the inspiration for the first Bug/Psychic-type Pokémon in Gen 8.

"Ender, you're gonna die from lack of oxygen!"
"I DON'T CAAAAARE, A DREAM AND A WEIRD GAME TOLD ME
TO RUN TOWARDS THIS GIANT CASTLE OF SPIKES FOR NO
APPARENT REASON EXCEPT IT MAY OR MAY NOT CONTAIN -
gasp! - SOMETHING TO REDEEM MYSELF SOMEHOW!
-urrrrrk... I'll take an oxygen pack please."

"Oh, miss Formic Queen, you have such large... four eyes!"
Ender ventures alone into the castle and finds a room that looks like an alien version of the one in the Mind Game. A sphere in the center, once again. He ventures underground from there and encounters an elderly Formic Queen. The two of them learn more about each other at that precise moment than screens and battles have ever allowed them to. The dying Queen then entrusts Ender with a fresh egg containing a new Formic Queen, and the child makes a solemn promise to help find it a new home. Bring back the species.

Of course he's asleep. Would you be expected to drive for
months, perhaps years, in search for a new world for an
alien, in complete loneliness? If you thought Jake Sully
spending six years in deep sleep was long, well, imagine
Ender's universe-long quest.
And thus Ender leaves, alone, on this quest, trying to prove to himself that he can be a good pacifist now that he has proven to be a brilliant war strategist. In the original book, there is actually a reason why Ender doesn’t return to Earth. Remember the subplot with Valentine and Peter? Yeah, with their intense blogging, they basically set up a global war, with each of them on a different side. If Ender came back, he would be forced to pick a side – and that’s the least of his worries. He could also be assassinated for destroying an entire alien species, or for bringing so many soldiers to death in this war, during that final event that he still thought to be jus a simulation. Oh, and Graff is put on trial, so he doesn’t escape it all. Here, Ender wants to stay true to his promise to the Formic Queen, so he goes alone with the egg.  That’s how the film ends.

I'll understand if you don't want to read all of these.
I wouldn't read them all either.
Of course, if you really want to see the aftermath, you could just go and seek out the 18 sequel books and the various short stories. This thing becomes a real damn space opera in no time. With all the qualities of a soap opera in a world of psychopaths, no less.

There was, however, quite a bit to set up. The book wasted no time, every chapter had something new, usually a new major event, or a match or simulation that revealed Ender’s intelligence, a new strategy put in place to either win the games at the Battle School, or a new technique in place at the Command School. Problem is, the book had time to show the multiple battles, while we’re stuck with only the most important ones in the film adaptation. And thus we can only assume that Ender is the greatest strategist, based only on the examples we get, and not on the various other examples that are missing. Condensing the original story’s events is a common way to approach an adaptation, and the film is already nearly 2 hours long, so I can understand why they cut out so many parts of the book – although the adaptation is weaker for it.

Video games were portrayed rather well. Gamers' levels of
intelligence towards puzzle games, not so much.
We are juggling a lot of plot elements already, which is why I agree on which plot elements were cut out by Gavin Hood. It does remove the great blogging wars, which become incredibly important in later books since, through them, Peter goes from being the most sociopathic character to becoming the first President of Earth, basically. No, really, not making that up.

The story juggles a lot of philosophies and beliefs regarding war, alien life, the nature of human conflict and child psychology, and to the adaptation’s credit, most of those were kept in the film. The story was still toned down, as the characters start off at about age 10 and the film takes place over a year, while the book had Ender start at age 6 and ends five years later. The important deaths in the book (like Bonzo) instead have the victims survive, although we can’t say that for all the pilots who died in the final assault. But, hey, a million is just a statistic, no?

The zero-gravity sport and the simulations were quite
impressive, however. I do want to mention, they forgot
to say: Teams win if they get one of their into an enemy
gate, and they get points to freezing opponents;
But we're never told how many points it takes to win
by just freezing opponents!
The adult actors are great, and most child actors are pretty good too. I have seen some critics say that the film lacked the usual Hollywoodian “Oomph!” That may be because Ender’s Game is more of the cerebral type of science-fiction, the one that delivers messages and philosophies first, awesome action second. And, granted, in this film, whenever there is action, it is pretty awesome, whether it’s the matches in the zero-gravity room or the large-scale combats all around the main characters in the simulation room. Some very impressive imagery there. Makes you wish there was more of both, as there is still quite a bit of the plot dedicated to philosophy and Aesops.

This review didn't show Harrison Ford often enough. Great
performance, I've yet to see Star Wars Episode 7... I hope
he's good in it, and in the 8th and 9th...
It’s definitely not for everyone. You might enjoy the book and the film, if you’re willing to accept that it’s not as action-packed as a lot of science-fiction films. And of course, if you simply cannot go past Orson Scott Card’s political views, even if this story doesn’t feature those in any way… well, skip this film, that’s all I can say. Though, it is an alright film if you’re willing to give it a chance. Not revolutionary, but impressive.

Next up… Hm… we’re almost in the middle of the month… it’s too late for a theme month, no?


I can simply not call it a themed month, and still do two related reviews in a row. In fact, there is indeed one franchise I REALLY needed to get into… mostly because one of the remaining three Nintendo DS games I still have to review is from that franchise…

Next Friday: I take a look at the humble beginnings, rise and downfall of the greatest attorney to have ever lived on a video game screen!