ENDER’S GAME Review

by     Posted 292 days ago

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Orson Scott Card‘s 1985 novel, Ender’s Game, is shockingly ahead of its time.  It predicted the wide-spread adoption of e-mail and the Internet, the use of drone warfare, and the connection between video games and players causing an emotional disconnect between war and action.  The book can also be a bit of a chore because of how much time it takes to describe kids shooting freeze guns behind boxes.  Gavin Hood‘s adaptation makes the action come alive, but more importantly, he never forgets the compelling protagonist or the relevant social commentary from Card’s 28-year-old book.  The mind games and weariness might fade into the background, but the intensity of the action and performances make the story not just immediate, but exhilarating.

Set in the future, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is training to be in an army of child soldiers who will fight off aliens known as “Formics”.  The Formics attacked decades ago and wiped out tens of millions before being inexplicably defeated and returning to their home planet.  Determined to never let the aliens attack, Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis) run an outer-space Battle School to train the cadets, but their focus is Ender, who they believe has the tactical and strategic genius to win the war.  But to make Ender reach his full potential, they must try to remove his humanity in order for him to save humanity.

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The Battle School and the games aren’t designed to desensitize the kids but to manipulate them towards accepting mass slaughter of an unseen species.  Graff says that children learn faster than adults, but he leaves out that they’re also more malleable.  They accept the morality they’re provided while an adult might consider the complexities of a pre-emptive strike against the Formics.  It’s a stretch to call the Battle School “brainwashing” because the entire populace has been browbeaten into accepting the threat of the Formics’ return.  Furthermore, the footage is presented almost like a video game.  It goes inside the cockpits and looks at the aerial battles from afar.  Once again, Card was ahead of his time.  Footage from Vietnam brought home the horrors of war, but he couldn’t have known that footage from the smart bombs in the first Iraq War turned combat into better living through technology (assuming you’re the one with the bombs).

The conflict between the dark power of technology and the thrills it can provide brings Hood into a murky area he sometimes has trouble navigating.  The fights inside the zero-gravity Battle Arena are meant to be exciting.  The cinematography, score, and editing all build to rousing set pieces where we can witness Ender’s genius.  Watching Ender float through zero gravity while firing two freeze guns is a stand-up-and-cheer moment, but it’s a moment where we should feel ambivalent about using a child soldier who will be millions of miles away from the war he’s preparing to fight.  However, Hood never draws attention to this juxtaposition.  It’s pure action spectacle, and on that level it works, but it comes at the expense of letting the audience feel conflicted.

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Nevertheless, the social commentary still remains since it’s embedded in the plot.  We know using child soldiers is wrong, but is it okay if they’re trying to save the planet and they’re not in immediate danger?  Are we worried about their safety or the desensitization of their actions?  Ender is in the tenuous position of understanding the enormity of his goal, but being aware he’s being pushed into that position by people like Graff.  When Graff singles out Ender for praise, the Colonel and Ender understand that it will earn the enmity of the other students.  Ender’s always being tested, and it makes him both a martyr and a killer.

For the most part, Hood does a good job of conveying Ender’s talent to win a war versus his fear of letting his violent tendencies take control.  Inside the Battle Arena and in the friendships he makes with his fellow students, we can see why Ender finds a leadership role alluring.  The inviting part is easy; it’s the manipulative side that’s tough.  It’s one of the many “games” extending past the battle arena.  If it’s not mind games with Graff, it’s power plays with Ender’s squad leader, Bonzo (Moises Arias).  The cost of winning these games may lead to promotion, but they also lead to a rearrangement of his personality that causes Ender great distress.

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However, the film never takes the wearing away of Ender’s personality as far as it needs to go.  This is one of the rare instances where I think a movie would benefit from a montage.  Ender’s success is tied to the ebbing of his compassion.  The film opens with a quote from Ender that perfectly sums up his inner conflict: “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.”   Graff doesn’t want to turn Ender into an unfeeling robot because empathy is the key to the boy’s success.  It’s also his weakness, and Hood never lets us see enough of the latter.  We get to relish his victories, but rarely do we have time to feel the emotional cost of those victories

Thankfully, Butterfield’s commanding (no pun intended) performance always holds everything together even when the script or direction is too loose to hammer home the themes.  The young actor is absolutely captivating in the role as he runs the gamut of Ender’s emotions.  Ender is a fascinating character because he’s both tough and fragile.  One doesn’t cover up the other.  They’re intertwined, and Butterfield thoughtfully navigates between the two.  But when it comes to Ender as the commander, to what Graff is trying to turn the boy into, Butterfield is astounding.  In those moments, I would follow that kid through the gates of Hell.

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Ender, his fellow cadets, and their teachers have the benefit of not looking their enemy in the eye.  They’ve seen the ships from afar, heard the tales, and devoted themselves fully to a reasonable goal of preventing possible annihilation with a pre-emptive strike.  But we still don’t have to look the enemy in the eye—the evil of manipulating children to murder millions—and Hood doesn’t want to look either, at least not in a serious, downbeat manner.  Ender’s Game sees the creeping darkness in the periphery, but the film quickly floats away, ready to engage the action but reluctant to face the destruction.

Rating: B+

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  • mattinacan

    NOPE

  • Nonnamice

    Yup

  • Mixed Race rich kid NYC

    Meh
    I will pay for it and sneak into rare 2d showing of gravity
    Anything to support somebody who still believes in traditional marriage

    • BigJimSlade

      How “traditional” are you talking?

      Same-race, same-religion, or just traditional by interpreting what was written in one religious text 2,000 years ago?

      • Mixed Race rich kid NYC

        A man + a woman

      • George

        I mean cause you know, a long time ago, Spartan men used to have orgies before battle. That’s pretty traditional.

      • Mixed Race rich kid NYC

        ????
        What ?
        Lol
        Again
        What’s that gotta do with anything ???

      • Grayden

        What do Card’s beliefs have to do with anything? Also, Card won’t make any money off that ticket you purchase; he sold the rights to Ender’s Game years ago. What you’re supporting is the studio’s investment in the film, that’s it.

      • Mixed Race rich kid NYC

        I’m glad to support it
        And if it makes you happy, I also bought the book from his website

      • $2367358

        Where are the Spartans today?

      • The Monarch

        In b-movies. But they still eat all right.

      • Troll Alert

        DONT FEED THE TROLLS

    • Blind_Boy_Grunt_1235

      “Traditional marriage”… so, polygamy, right?

    • bombinUSA

      haha that’s a great idea, gays need to be taught a lesson with their evil ways. homo’s do not belong in society!

      • belle tourre

        Wow. Jews, and now homosexuals. I’m sure you’ve got a whole Rolodex of nigger-jokes you’re just itching to deploy, don’t you?

      • bombinUSA

        whoa whoa whoa watch your language, i just flagged you for your racist remarks. despicable!!!

      • Clement

        How’s your sad, unimportant life going? I hope it’s going well.

    • bombinUSA

      haha that’s a great idea, gays need to be taught a lesson with their evil ways. homo’s do not belong in society!

  • Strong Enough

    is that the kid from Kings of Summer in the second to last pic? lmao

    • Pk

      Yup

  • Gojiro

    I’m sorry but your opening statement about Card doesn’t hold up. “Orson Scott Card‘s 1985 novel, Ender’s Game, is shockingly ahead of its time. It predicted the wide-spread adoption of e-mail and the Internet, the use of drone warfare, and the connection between video games and players causing an emotional disconnect between war and action.”

    Card was not ahead of his time and did not predict or really invent the fact that the internet and email would come to be part of our everyday lives. This work was already done by Xerox Corp and DARPA had already funded the internet and built it in it’s rudimentary form by 1985. In fact it was Nikola Tesla who predicted the world wide distribution of information through wireless communication in the 1890′s and drone warfare. Tesla invented the first remotely piloted vehicle and demonstrated it’s use at the World’s Fair. Tesla also predicted the transmission of moving pictures, what we call television today.

    Later Hugo Gernsback would make Tesla’s predictions part of his first Science Fiction works. Like Card, he wrote about what others predicted the future would look like.

    Also Card did not invent the idea of Battle School where young people would go to learn how to fight remote warfare. The Air Force was already studying this in the late 1970′s and early 1980′s. Get the book called “On Killing” which discusses the studies that have been done about emotionally disconnecting a soldier from his target long before Card’s book was written.

    This is what Reagan said in a speech in 1983 a full two years before Card’s book. “I recently learned something quite interesting about video games. Many young people have developed incredible hand, eye, and brain coordination in playing these games. The air force believes these kids will be our outstanding pilots should they fly our jets.” (RONALD REAGAN, speech, Aug. 8, 1983) Sounds like Battle School?

    So it’s better to say that Card, like Hugo Gernsback, adapted predictions about the future into their works.

    • bombinUSA

      shutup nerd, quit being a homo.

      • Gojiro

        Why are you obsessed with homosexuality? Nowhere in my comment did I mention that or the “boycott” of the film. It was about giving credit to those who actually predicted the future and built it. Men like Tesla.

        But here you are with gayness on your mind. Why?

      • Merlin235

        I took his comment satirically. He follows up your intelligent response with a sophomoric insult, and the contrast results in humor. Maybe not, but that’s how I took it. I know I shouldn’t laugh, but I did. However, if he’s really insulting your response and calling you a name, I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you. He has more problems than you can address on a forum. ;)

      • Clement

        I’m not entirely sure that satire is within his mental capacity, but it’s very generous of you to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    • bombinUSA

      shutup nerd, quit being a homo.

    • Doug

      Thanks for the snores.

    • Tritium3H

      Gojiro, with all due respect, don’t be daft. Maybe you have some agenda against OSC’s “politics”.. However, NO ONE except Science-fiction authors and futurists, such as OSC, were extrapolating and predicting how the revolution in Information Technology (and specifically the emergence of a global communication Network) would completely transform our civilization.

      Sure, there were the actual ArpaNet and nascent Internet TCP/IP creators who knew the possible potential, but they were, at the time, completely unknown, unsung, and ignored by the world at-large. UseNet, I believe, was just starting to become prevalent when OSC wrote “Ender’s Game”. However, it was Sci-Fi writers like OSC who not only foresaw the possibilities, and coming revolution of what we know know as the Internet…but actually incorporated it into their work. OSC was on the cutting edge of that, as well as Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, William Gibson, and a few others.

      • Gojiro

        Sorry I don’t care about the “politics” surrounding the film. Someone once gave me a biography of Ernst Hemingway. I’ve never read it because I don’t want it to spoil my enjoyment of his fiction.

        Card did not foresee anything that Scientists and Inventors weren’t already working on. (How about Dick Tracy’s Watch? George Lucas did not invent the idea of holographic communications. But he was the first to put it in an iconic film.)

        I’ve read a lot of Science and Technical magazines and journals from the 1890′s while researching Tesla. So when I watch Fritz Lang’s Metropolis I know where the ideas came from. Multilevel cities with flying cars were written about in articles that appeared in Scientific American from the 1880′s onward. Steam powered robots were invented by the ancient Greeks. Hugo Gernsback was publishing a magazine about the new age of Electronics and Wireless in 1911 before he first published Amazing Stories in 1924. He got his fiction ideas from what inventors were already proposing.

        Look at 1930′s pulp fiction. (The film maker Samuel Fuller wrote a pulp novel called Test Tube Baby in 1936.) Plenty of references to atomic power and atomic bombs are also found throughout 1930′s sci/fi literature. Card did what all successful authors do they incorporate ideas into their work from what they know. Arthur C Clark did not predict sentient computers – he wrote about one and added the twist that it was homicidal. That was brilliant. Card incorporated ideas of taking kids who play video games, striping away their humanity, having them kill other beings and then deal with the emotional consequences. It makes for a compelling story.

        As I explained the Air Force was already studying this and Reagan spoke about it in 1983. Card added elements to this concept created a world out of preexisting ideas and added the struggle against losing your compassion. It’s not Catcher in the Rye, but it sells well to a narrow market.

        Again he was just writing about what was already predicted to become the future. That’s what the majority of Sci/Fi writers do. Card himself is an author writing in the genre. He’s not a futurist.

        The only thing unique in a Sci/Fi movie I’ve ever seen is a Light Sabre.

      • Tritium3H

        Hi Gojiro. Maybe you misunderstood me. I fully acknowledge that computer scientists and engineers were hard at work on what would become the modern Internet. I mentioned ArpaNet, which has its roots in the beginning of the 70s. TCP/IP protocol was implemented in the early 80s. Usenet also began in the early 80s. I said as much in my previous post.

        My point was that this technology was essentially limited in use by universities/academia, the military, and a relatively small group of enthusiasts (e.g. Usenet). It wasn’t something the general public was aware of in the early 80s. There certainly were scientists and engineers who may have foreseen the coming revolution, especially when TCP/IP was standardized., Indeed, I am sure papers were published in peer-reviewed science journals discussing the possibilities.

        However, the depiction of a global communication network, and it’s revolutionary, transformative impact upon society…was first introduced and popularized in the writings of the aforementioned Science Fiction authors.

        P.S. — It was unfair of me to imply you might harbor some sort of agenda/prejudice against Orson Scott Card. I do apologize for that.remark.

      • Gojiro

        Sorry I don’t care about the “politics” surrounding the film. Someone once gave me a biography of Ernst Hemingway. I’ve never read it because I don’t want it to spoil my enjoyment of his fiction.

        Card did not foresee anything that Scientists and Inventors weren’t already working on. (How about Dick Tracy’s Watch? George Lucas did not invent the idea of holographic communications. But he was the first to put it in an iconic film.)

        I’ve read a lot of Science and Technical magazines and journals from the 1890′s while researching Tesla. So when I watch Fritz Lang’s Metropolis I know where the ideas came from. Multilevel cities with flying cars were written about in articles that appeared in Scientific American from the 1880′s onward. Steam powered robots were invented by the ancient Greeks. Hugo Gernsback was publishing a magazine about the new age of Electronics and Wireless in 1911 before he first published Amazing Stories in 1924. He got his fiction ideas from what inventors were already proposing.

        Look at 1930′s pulp fiction. (The film maker Samuel Fuller wrote a pulp novel called Test Tube Baby in 1936.) Plenty of references to atomic power and atomic bombs are also found throughout 1930′s sci/fi literature. Card did what all successful authors do they incorporate ideas into their work from what they know. Arthur C Clark did not predict sentient computers – he wrote about one and added the twist that it was homicidal. That was brilliant. Card incorporated ideas of taking kids who play video games, striping away their humanity, having them kill other beings and then deal with the emotional consequences. It makes for a compelling story.

        As I explained the Air Force was already studying this and Reagan spoke about it in 1983. Card added elements to this concept created a world out of preexisting ideas and added the struggle against losing your compassion. It’s not Catcher in the Rye, but it sells well to a narrow market.

        Again he was just writing about what was already predicted to become the future. That’s what the majority of Sci/Fi writers do. Card himself is an author writing in the genre. He’s not a futurist.

        The only thing unique in a Sci/Fi movie I’ve ever seen is a Light Sabre.

    • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

      But there are plenty of other aspects from every time period where people thought it would become the future (for example, the flying car). It takes skill to look at the seeds and predict what they will grow into.

  • http://www.twitter.com/dsilinski Darren

    Better score than I thought it would get.

  • http://twitter.com/JPaulo645 João Paulo

    Can’t wait to see this movie.

  • James

    This is how I know reviewers are terrible. This movie doesn’t interest me in the slightest, and it looks like complete garbage. It’s an awful idea.

    • Blind_Boy_Grunt_1235

      This is how I know commenters are terrible. They fault someone who actually HAS seen the movie because the commercials don’t look interesting!

  • Joe

    Is this movie for teens or early adults? I can’t tell as I’m not familiar with the source material.

  • Doug

    Enders Game is better than Elysium and pacific rim. Never woulda thunk it.

    • Raptor Jesus

      That is faint praise indeed.

    • Raptor Jesus

      That is faint praise indeed.

  • Doug

    Enders Game is better than Elysium and pacific rim. Never woulda thunk it.

  • The Flobbit

    OK, now I need to see this movie. Ender’s Game is one of my favourite books, and the cast and visuals look stunning.

  • The Flobbit

    OK, now I need to see this movie. Ender’s Game is one of my favourite books, and the cast and visuals look stunning.

  • 10 Strings

    What?

  • Chris Noeth

    I saw the movie last week in Germany. Best movie of the year! It really is one of the rare serious sci-fi movies without stupid joking around while the world is in danger and all the silly stuff we have to watch this days. I loved it for it’s serious tone. The music is awesome too. If you are into sci-fi you have to watch this movie! It really is great and it deserves a success because this is NOT the typical mainstream shit we get every year.

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  • Bobby S

    Author Card is definitely not ahead of his time. In fact, if you look online about Card’s right-wing views, including denial of global warming, this Southern redneck is behind the times in reality. Ender’s Game looks like Tea Party Triumph of the Will pretending to be the new Star Wars with its own military government brainwashing.

  • ZAR

    Congratulations! A mediocre SF-story written by some real life-asshole has been turned into a mediocre SF-movie. Most certainly a fitting “companion piece” for Battlefield Earth.

    Mediocrity is not the problem btw. Anyone remember Millennium by John Varley? Well, actually, that’s a pretty darn good SF-writer and the book was (at least) a nice read. And the movie? Not really worth mentioning. It took ages to be produced – amazing it was produced at all..

    Why not turn decent SF-material into movies instead?

    Try something classic if you’re not sure, e.g. from Farmer. World of Tiers not worth a try? Or how about Dark is the Sun? One of the best reads of my youth? Not good enough? OK, I forgot, you already messed up John Carter of Mars.

    OK, how about Asimov then? Go for the Foundation Trilogy! But, please, not another I, Robot!

    No, not another attempt at Herbert’s Dune! You failed twice already and only Jodorowsky could pull it off – if at all.

    How about something fresher? Gibson? Benford? Or how about Banks? (RIP, Iain, so sad about it!) Too innovative?

    How about your very own ideas? The Terminator did it pretty good. The Matrix pulled it off too. Well, at least for one good movie. (Don’t give such narrative morons too much control next time!)

    Come on! There’s quite a number of people out there who want some GOOD SF-stuff! And not just another Avatar.

    Think of District 9. Or Strange Days. Not successful enough? Blade Runner took 20 years to become a success. Well, and now it is… Warner is most certainly not complaining. (Though they don’t give a rats ass about Babylon 5. Maybe another 20 years down the line?)

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