2 Tips for Watching Movie Adaptations of Books & "Ender's Game" Review

This essay was written by Williesha Morris.

“Ender, the enemy’s gate is down.”

The double meaning wasn’t lost while reading “Ender’s Game” or watching the movie adaptation.

“Ender’s Game” marks the first time I’ve ever purposefully read a book just before seeing a movie. I typically avoid watching movie versions of books for fear it would ruin my carefully, although not well-formed, visualizations of the story.

Though I have a faulty memory, snippets of books like “The Secret Life of Bees,” “The Notebook” and “Cold Mountain” have not been tarnished by the dramatizations on the big screen, even though many of these movies have been critically acclaimed. I just can’t bear to watch them.

But because “Ender’s Game” was an important novel in my husband’s childhood, and my in-laws enjoyed it as well and were kind enough to get me a copy from the library, I was determined to read it in time to see a viewing the following week.

For me, this was huge. I’m not the avid reader I once was as a child. In fact I typically only read short business e-books. But this time I was determined.

And I finished the book in three days.

Three days!

The achievement alone was more exciting than the opportunity to see it in IMAX.

Here are some tips before viewing a movie based on a book. (Read: Following this section are spoilers. If you haven’t read the book or seen the film, you may want to stop after this section. But come back!)

1) Remember the time frame the book was created: There are several scenes changed or fleshed out based on the cinematic technologies of today. We should all be grateful we live in a time where books from the 80s can be created into something suitable for today.

2) Remember the goal of Hollywood: Filmmakers want a movie with interesting characterization and, for movies like this, increased drama, action and romance. Those equal big box office bucks. Just the implication of those three movie elements is what keeps LA churning out movie after movie, even at the expense of taking creative liberties with novels. So you have to expect this will happen and not be turned off by it.

Given that Orson Scott Card once deemed the book impossible to be filmed but was very pleased with this movie, I dove into both the book and the movie with a very critical eye. Thanks to early versions of the trailer, I had Harrison Ford as Graff and little Asa Butterfiled as Ender in my head the whole time (with occasional flashes of Abigail Breslin as Valentine). But after getting halfway through the novel, I began to understand why Card was so skeptical at first.

Valentine and Peter’s plot to take over the world one Net forum at a time was painfully abrupt, difficult to understand and dragged the momentum of the book to a screeching halt.

While I can understand the negative ramifications of focusing an entire book on one character, it seemed completely unnecessary, the political scene was too complex, and the connections to the siblings’ lives at the end of the novel was not a valuable enough payoff to make it an integral part of the plot.

Peter’s transformation from sociopath to politician was too jarring. Had he and Valentine plotted to find out what was going on with International Fleet’s schooling or get in touch with Ender, that would have been more plausible. But this was really the only issue with the book I had. The exclusion of this subplot in the movie was definitely the most positive element.

Other great elements of the film where it deviated from the book included not calling the aliens “buggers,” but by their official term (used in later books in the series) “Formics.” “Buggers” sounded antiquated and childish.

The lake retreat and battle school scenes in particular were extremely well done, and they were really useful in imagining those moments while reading the book. Card’s details of the flying maneuvers was difficult to follow at times, and the trailer scenes provided a much needed point of reference in my mind. Creating lifelike battle scenes in Command School and having Ender and his teammates together in the same room were also great choices for the filmmakers to make that were different from the book.

Ender’s character was still lovable, complicated and dangerous, just like in the  book. However, the movie decided to soften the edges around his relationships with other characters. While his friendship with Bean was very rocky in the book, filmmakers chose to make their characters like each other almost instantly.

I was also pleased with how they handled the fight scenes. They chose not to kill off Stilson or Bonzo. Instead, it is implied Ender only hurt them to the brink of death. I was also pleasantly surprised Ender did not have a confrontation with Bernard. Instead, their combativeness is non-physical, brief and ends with them being together in battle as friends.

However, the nature of these friendships and Ender’s softer side is where the film failed to reach critics, many of which wrote their reviews as though they were completely unfamiliar with the book’s plot.

There was never a romantic relationship between Ender and Petra. Critics were tough on this element of the movie, and for the wrong reasons. Yes, Ender and Petra did nothing more than occasionally hold hands and look longingly at each other. But it wasn’t because they were children or they didn’t have chemistry.

She was never a critical part of Ender’s life in the book. They were simply friends who helped each other and respected each other in the end. I think if critics understood this, they would have had different complaints about the film, namely Petra’s overreaching role, talking with him before the “graduation” battle and being the last person he sees before discovering the Formic hiding place. None of these elements were in the book, and I was disappointed they attempted to pull something romantic out of nothing.

Movie critics who read the book had the same misgivings that I did. It was also unclear how much time had passed during Ender’s training, but the movie is already nearly two hours long, so it was understandable things had to be rushed. But it did take away from getting deeper into Ender’s complex psyche, and it also made his friendships seem forced.

There may be other book-then-movie adventures in my future, but for now, I’m happy this one turned out pretty well. I went into the movie already with a love and appreciation for the book’s characters, and it made watching it much more meaningful, even when the movie wasn’t perfect.

Let’s talk about book-to-movie adaptations. What are your favorites? Which ones do you hate? Let me know in the comments. (I expect to see a lot of Tolkien fans pop up.)


Williesha Morris is lucky enough to have two sides to her business: she is a freelance writer and blogger and also is an administrative consultant/VA. She gets pumped when she’s able to meld the two together. When she’s not working, she’s usually spending way too much time staring at Facebook or giggling with her husband. Find her at My Freelance Life.com and on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo: Courtesy of Nerdist


  1. Anonymous

    Favorite book-to-movie adaptation for me is probably “The Princess Bride.” I know not all films are lucky enough to have the book’s author as a screenwriter, or to have an author who also has experience as a screenwriter, but the results here were amazing!

    1. Willi

      Oh, that’s a good one! I never read the book. Have just seen the movie a million times. Will definitely pick that one up.

  2. adrianscrazylife

    I wish I’d refreshed myself on the book before I went to see the movie. I hadn’t read it in probably 20 years and I just had a bare-bones memory of the plot, so I felt like I was missing a lot when I went to go see the movie. I think I’ll have to grab the book and refresh my memory before I see the movie a second time. #SITSSharefest

    1. Brandon Monk

      I finally got around to going to see the movie this weekend, but unfortunately it had already left my town’s theaters. I’ll have to check it out at home when it releases in some form consumable there. The book, though, is one I read every few years.

      1. Willi

        You know, Brandon, I should probably read it again. And all my favorites. Adrian, you should too! It really added a layer of emotional connection to the movie.

  3. A.

    Quick point: I think one of the reasons they omitted the use of ‘buggers’ was because it is considered a derogatory term for homosexuals and Orson Scott Card has had enough controversy with his (ugly) political views.

    Other than that, I try to view a film as a separate entity. A film doesn’t have to remain completely faithful to a book and I can still love it. I mean, they are two different types of media. I try to keep that in mind. We digest them in unique, individual, separate ways. We have to keep in mind, a character in a novel is a textual creation. There are no images, no immediate sort of blips of information like we get with pictures. When I siphon a mental images of Harry Potter, for instance, I don’t think of Daniel Radcliffe and never have (never will, either!) Same with Frodo, I’ve never pictured Elijah Wood and I read the books after seeing the trilogy.

    People who make the argument, ‘Oh, the book is always better,’ sort of confuse me. It just seems silly. A film is only an interpretation. Some subtle points are impossible to get across, there are limitations, it is challenging, and more importantly, not all books are suited to be transformed and turned into screenplays. That is why there are screenwriting Master’s programs. It is its own form of writing.

    All this aside: I love, love, love pretty much all of the BBC/Masterpiece Theatre versions of Classics way more than any Hollywood interpretations. 2006’s Jane Eyre is one of my all time favorites. It is just so beautifully shot and pretty faithful.

    Soon, I am looking forward to seeing The Book Thief. One of my favorites and I am hoping not to be disappointed!

    Great piece, Williesha, as always.

    1. Willi

      Hey there! You have definitely given me a new perspective. They are two entirely different forms of media, and should be treated as such. But that’s difficult to do! For instance, I read some of the Potter books around the time before and after the last two films were released, and even though the books had lovely illustrations, I did fall back to imagining the movies. I guess that’s easier on my brain instead of visualizing something completely new!

      1. Willi

        Oh and thanks about clarifying “buggers!”

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