Friday, December 20, 2013

Ender's Game: Love Thy Enemy **1/2

The long awaited adaptation of Orson Scott Card's classic Sci-Fi novel Ender's Game is generally well made, engaging, and consistently grim (in a good way).  The film stars Asa Butterfield (from Hugo Cabaret) as the child prodigy Ender Wiggin; a military genius recruited to defend earth from buglike space invaders. Unlike most alien invasion pictures, which emphasize special effects and action, Ender's Game dwells more on characterization - allowing the film to at least touch upon moral and philosophical issues.

Set possibly a 100 years into the future after Earth has successfully repulsed an alien invasion, the story follows a group of children training to stop the next one.  The world government forces parents to give up their "gifted" children for military training.  Ender's two older siblings, Peter and Valentine (who both play a stronger role in the novel) represent conflicting sides of his personality: intelligent aggression and informed compassion.  Ender's mentor, Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), sees Ender as humanity's last hope - exuding a creepy moral ambiguity in his performance.

A bit of inspired dialogue from the film got me thinking.  Colonel Graff wants to mold Ender into another Julius Caesar or Napoleon.  However, as pointed out to the Colonel, Caesar was killed by his own friends and Napoleon ended up in exile.  Generally, movies portray military heroes as larger than life egotists obsessed with their image in the history books - Patton being the glaring example.  But Ender's Game tries to answer the question of what makes a "great" general?  From my humble amount of reading of history, there a multitude of complex factors and talents appropriate for their time period:

Dwight Eisenhower: First rate conflict resolver and manager. 

Napoleon: Observers described as otherworldly and detached during battle.  

U.S. Grant: Stoic determination

Robert E. Lee: Aristocratic, risk taker, and endeared himself to history despite his less than noble cause.

George Washington: A gentleman who could win friends and influence others.

The list goes on and on. Ender Wiggin, like Grant, is a reluctant warrior.  He's really, really good at combat and strategy, but takes little joy in it.  Barely into adolescence Ender must defeat an enemy no one understands - another important allegory here?

The special effects are exceptional and avoid being too flashy.  As I said, this is a somewhat bleak movie for PG-13 audience, because of the issues it raises.  The adults using the children for their own purposes is another recurring theme in need of more development.  Or is the primary theme about the necessity of preparing for war?  The script tends to meander around those sticky quandaries.

Unfortunately, there's a pacing problem throughout. Some sequences go on too long, while others go by way too fast. The build up to the climax falls a bit flat.

I would recommend this movie as slightly above average Sci-Fi.  If you like it - definitely check out the novel.

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