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Badger & Vole Review: Ender's Game
Vole: Hi, and welcome to this week's edition of our prose podcast, “Badger & Vole Review.” Today we’re talking about last weekend’s big movie, Ender’s Game. Badger: And not this weekend’s big movie, Thor: The Dark World, mostly because neither of us has seen it yet. Vole: Are you going to see it? Badger: Oh yeah, like my wife would let us miss a new Chris Hemsworth movie. We’re going tonight. Vole: I’m surprised you didn’t catch the midnight show last night. Badger: That possibility was discussed. One of the local theaters was doing a Thor-a-Thon. Thor, then The Avengers, and then at the stroke of midnight, The Dark World. What a total nerdgasm. Vole: Says the man who sat through Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi running back to back to back. Badger: Hey. That was completely different. That was Star Wars. Vole: And yet strangely, this brings us back to Ender’s Game. Because...? Badger: Because I can’t be objective about this one. I first met Ender when the original short story was published in Analog, in the summer of ‘77. That’s the same summer that Star Wars was tearing up box office records all over the world and redefining modern science fiction as being “just like 1935 all over again, only this time with better special effects and making even less sense.” Vole: Excuse me? Did I just hear you say— Badger: Understand, I love Star Wars. It’s fun, and exciting, and overflowing with swashbuckling adventure and grand heroics and all that wonderful stuff that was so noticeably missing from all the ponderous, leaden, preachy, depressing excrescences that were passed-off as Important Science Fiction Films in the years immediately preceding 1977. But don’t make the mistake of trying to think too seriously about or look too closely at anything in the Star Wars universe, because if you do, the seams will split and all the nonsense will come pouring out.
Star Wars is not science fiction. It’s an escapist magical fantasy that just happens to take place in a universe cluttered with sci-fi props and set-dressings.
Vole: As opposed to Ender’s Game, which is...? Badger: Probably one of the finest serious “modern Old School hard SF” stories to emerge during that time. Easily the equal of the best work of Joe Haldeman, Larry Niven, or David Brin. It’s a science fiction novel that looks very seriously at war, without either wallowing in the post-Vietnam negativity and nihilism that was so fashionable at the time or wallowing in the blood-and-guts war-porn that Stallone and Schwarzenegger would make fashionable later. Vole: Which covers the novel. What’s this have to do with the movie? Badger: So while Star Wars was packing ‘em into the theaters, and establishing that you can get away with anything in cinematic science fiction provided the special effects are great, the soundtrack is loud, and you pile up enough corpses and blow-up enough stuff—because what the Hell, it’s all just FM, anyway—at the same time, you have this remarkably thoughtful, intelligent, and moral little novelette in Analog that—well, this is the story that won Card the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. It set a high-water mark for just how good military-themed science fiction can be. Vole: You seem to be awfully defensive about this. Badger: I had a lot of fears for this movie. I read the original story in Analog. I still have the signed and inscribed copy of the novel that Orson Scott Card gave me, sitting on my favorite bookshelf—and this was back when it was just his new novel, fresh from the printer’s, and he was hoping I might give it a Nebula rec. Nobody knew then what a monster it was going to become. But when you have both Ben Bova and Gene Wolfe telling you, “You’ve gotta read this book!” Well, you tend to listen. Vole: You know, we are supposed to be talking about the movie. Badger: I am. Indirectly. I’ve just—I had a lot of fears for this movie. We writers have a love/hate relationship with Hollywood. We love the insane amounts of money that come from getting a good movie deal, but hate what they do to our books. You want to hear some horror stories, talk to Barry Longyear sometime about what Hollywood did to Enemy Mine. Get David Brin to talk about The Postman, if you can. I remember asking him, just before it came out, what he thought of it. He said, “Well, the first third of the movie has some things in common with the first half of my book.” Hollywood has a history of absolutely butchering great science fiction novels. I mean, take The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Take Dune. Vole: I did not like Dune. Not one bit. Badger: I don’t think there has ever been a good adaptation of a Heinlein novel; certainly not Starship Troopers. 2001 was more Kubrick than Clarke. Asimov? I’ve read Harlan Ellison’s script for I, Robot. It’s horrible. It wasn’t Ellison’s fault, it was just all the stuff he had to change to try to make it into a “commercial” movie.
I think that’s why there have been so many movies made from Philip K. Dick stories. He’s dead and can’t bitch about what they’re doing to his books.
Vole: I can see how Ender’s Game, with a little “creative editing,” could easily turn into an action movie. Badger: And of course, they’d need to bring out the latent sexual tension between Ender and Petra. Vole: In the last scene with Petra, before Ender [SPOILER DELETED], I was afraid they were going to have Petra kiss Ender before he left. Badger: Obviously, Bonzo’s anger is a reflection of his latent homosexuality. If that damned Battle School wasn’t so repressive... Vole: There’s no sex; no swearing. That’s unrealistic. They’d have to fix that. Badger: It was so nice to see military SF movie without the seemingly obligatory drill sergeant whose every second word is mother*****r. Vole: See, writers? You can convey strong emotions without dropping f-bombs every other line. Badger: And without the equally seemingly obligatory “all the cadets naked in the shower” scene. Vole: Well, they are children. There are laws. If they’d been college-age... Badger: In fact, they distinctly stressed while this was a co-ed military academy and the cadets bunked together, they did not share bathroom or shower facilities. Vole: Er, we seem to have skipped something here. Gone right from talking about the book to talking about what was not in the movie. Weren’t we supposed to review the movie? Badger: Oh. Right. Okay, the deal is, going in, I had a lot of trepidation about this movie.
I shouldn’t have. This is probably one of the best adaptations of a novel that I have ever seen. The people who made this film did a brilliant job of keeping the key scenes from the novel, keeping the spirit and soul of the novel, and of not adding any gratuitous Hollywood b.s. If you liked the novel, you will love this film. It’s big, beautiful, well-acted, well-filmed, and well-edited. It’s visually awesome, the effects are gorgeous, yet they don’t overwhelm what is at heart a very strong human story.
Vole: “If you loved the book, you’ll love the movie?” Badger: Better than that. You already know my relationship to this book. I saw it with my son, for whom this book was “an old classic” and required reading in a high school, and my wife, who’d never read it. We all thoroughly enjoyed it. Vole: That is where it scores so well. People who read and loved the book will be satisfied. People who have never read the book will also be satisfied. Badger: It’s intelligent, thoughtful, hard science fiction with a moral core. And it’s exciting, to boot. Ender is a hero you will root for, but you’ll also come to understand that his heroism comes at a cost. Vole: Ender’s Game is an excellent movie, and one of the best science fiction movies to come out in years. It delivers the goods from beginning to end. Badger: So if you’re one of those people who complains that Hollywood can’t make an intelligent and exciting science fiction film— Vole: See Ender’s Game. Badger: Yes. See it. Vole: And that about wraps it up for this week. Join us next week, when we’ll be reviewing— Badger: Thor: The Dork World. Vole: That’s Dark. Badger: Whatever.
Badger was once an award-winning SF novelist, until his involvement with a legendary multimillion-dollar Hollywood bomb destroyed his writing career. Vole was once a million-copy-selling comic-book writer, and he still thinks the “lion” version of Voltron is pretty darn cool.
Today, they’re just two old guys who like to watch movies, eat popcorn, and kvetch. Oh boy, do they kvetch. And despite his mild-mannered appearance, Vole will always be known around here as the man who wrote the brilliantly funny but hopelessly unpublishable comic-book script, "Bruce Wayne's and Lex Luthor's Ex-Girlfriends Meet and Compare Notes," which introduced the now legendary "Crotchless Batgirl Costume."