Ender’s Game and the problem with adapting “classics” to film

Ender's Game Theatrical PosterLast week, we rented the big screen adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s science fiction classic, Ender’s Game. I think it is safe to say that this movie was doomed from the start, and part of that had nothing to do with the script or the actors but the legacy of the story.

Published in 1985, I have a feeling that many young adults fans of the genre were happily reading anything science fiction that was published. And many of those young adults became authors and screenwriters whose work was influenced, directly or indirectly, by the story of Andrew Ender Wiggin and his life in the military academy.

But now? In 2014, the dystopian novel with a teen protagonist is all the rage. Hunger Games, Divergent, Roar — many of the top books for teens are about young adults fighting the wars of their parents. Of the blurred lines between right and wrong when it comes to war. And I’m sure we can sit and point at dozens of science fiction movies that have come out since that take the same premise, of raising the super soldier to protect us, of sacrificing childhood innocence to keep the world safe. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…it’s all been done to death.

And here comes Hollywood, so excited that it can capitalize on the popularity of such franchises as The Hunger Games by making a film of a book that many consider the start of it all. But because so much time has passed, the power of the story loses a lot of it’s weight. As usual, the movie becomes obsessed with having the special effects work more than giving us characters we can get behind.

This is my theory as to why Science Fiction films are so looked down upon by the general populace. Fans of Science Fiction novels read the stories and love them for their social and political commentary. They try to spread the word and people scoff at “Sci-Fi” as pulp stories that should be recycled as soon as they are read. Then Hollywood says they will make a movie and (for some strange reason) the Science Fiction fans are excited because finally their love will be our love. But, no, Hollywood must butcher your story, chop it down to 2 hours, and just keep the bits that have explosions. And so the general populace walks out of the movie theater, unaware that there is more to the book, unaware that the movie they just viewed is based on a 30 year old novel that has inspired most of their other popcorn movies since then — all they see is a 2 hour explosion fest with little character development and a plot they have already seen before.

This is true of adapting any classic to the big screen, but I think because Science Fiction and Fantasy are already picked on for being “nerdy” it makes it harder for general viewers to forgive bad film version. Everyone knows (or has been told by their teachers time and again) that Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare wrote classics, so if the movie stinks, its just the movie, not the book. I think the only high fantasy movie series that managed to survive was Lord of the Rings (but then Jackson turned around and gave us the epic mess that is the unnecessary Hobbit trilogy).

I could blog about this for hours, giving examples of other movies that have fallen short but let’s turn it over to you — What do you think? Should Hollywood bother adapting “classics” to the big screen? Are they doomed from the start?

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