Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ender's Game

*** out of ****

Be warned, all you haters of science fiction: Ender’s Game is steeped in the genre and will not give you an inch. That’s why I like it. This is a movie with a rather abstract futuristic setting, mostly humorless expositional dialogue and is more about ideas than action. While I have never read the Orson Scott Card novel, on which this film is based, I get the impression that the movie is a faithful adaptation and sticks to its guns in regards to its vision of a militaristic society that exploits children as the ultimate weapon.

Half a century after an alien attack on earth, the world has united to prepare for another. The military has learned that it takes very high-tech weapons to fight the enemy and values the developing minds of children to control them. I don’t need to research the author’s inspiration for this idea, when I consider that it was written in 1985 during the early videogame boom, which turned kids into champions of a thing that adults of the time could barely grasp.

This exploitation has potential to disturb an adult but excite a child, particularly boys. Kids are quite often dished out movies about child characters being given an exciting adult responsibility. In this story, the “Spaceman Spiff” fantasy is taken to a dark extreme with the unsettling idea of kids being conditioned as an essential instrument of war.

The main character, Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield from Hugo), a brilliant young student has demonstrated great potential, is recruited by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) for battle school. Ender is a troubled soul whose emotions are buried from a life of trying to prove his worth. Being a third-born in a family that was supposed to be limited to two children, gives him the pressure to succeed where his disturbed older brother (Jimmy 'Jax' Pinchak) and his kind sister (Abigail Breslin) did not.

Graff admires the kid’s mind but wants to put it to the test. Placing him in battle school in a station orbiting the planet may be a big advancement in training, but Graff chooses to put Ender in situations that will provoke antagonism from the more arrogant students, much to the dismay of Major Anderson (Viola Davis), who often debates the morality of their tactics. Ender continues to overcome aversion proving to have leadership qualities, which only encourages Graff to continue toughening him up.

The movie is essentially, military school in space. Every situation is about the main character understanding the value of strategy and the kind of individual spirit that one must grow to be a leader. The inner-turmoil of Ender is displayed in many ways, as he fears that he may be a monster of war. When defensive, the damage caused is more than he intended.

When Paul Verhoven made the famous movie of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers,” he put a spin on its fascist implications for a satirical effect. This upset many fans of the original material -at least the ones who understood what he was doing. Maybe they felt judged. Gavin Hood doesn’t do anything like this with Ender’s Game, but I was still reminded of it for the portrayal a militaristic future with a sense of awe and excitement. However, there is a thought-provoking plot twist in store. You may feel a chill when the child-like perception of war shifts to the bitter consequences of it.      

This was a story worth making into a movie. Like all great science fiction, it will provoke discussion and debate over what it meant rather than how cool it looked. 

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