Saturday, 9 November 2013

Ender's Game

Ender’s Game was panned by the critics, so I wasn’t sure I should even make the effort to watch it, especially with the ongoing controversy surrounding Orson Scott Card’s views on gay marriage. But it is a sci-fi film and I had read and enjoyed Card’s novel decades ago and was eager to see what they had done with it. Besides, I wanted to reward the filmmakers for not making a 3D film out of a story which so clearly typifies films which are now made in 3D as a matter of course.

Set in the future, Ender’s Game is the story of a young genius (around thirteen years old) named Ender Wiggin, who is recruited by the Earth’s military powers to help them defeat the Earth’s bug-like alien enemy. That enemy was driven off during the last attack and the Earth needs to find a way to prevent the aliens from returning to obliterate all of human life. Ender’s brilliant strategic mind may just be that way.

While Ender’s Game has many flaws, I found it much more entertaining than I had anticipated (those wonderful low expectations). Until the last twenty minutes, I was engaged and satisfied. But then came the ending, which involves two climactic scenes. I was amazed and disappointed that I was able to remember the first of these from the book, thus reducing its impact. But the real disappointment was the anticlimactic nature of these climactic scenes (i.e they fell flat!). Writer/director Gavin Hood should take some lessons from Paul Greengrass on how to end a film with the appropriate level of intensity. What happens in those last twenty minutes of Ender’s Game is mind-blowing stuff and it should leave the audience breathless and paralyzed. Instead, the ending, like much of what preceded it, feels like it’s aimed at adolescents and is just blandly going through the motions (though they are very beautiful motions). 

The cinematography is outstanding and the music is very well done. The acting is solid, for the most part, featuring veterans like Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley. Asa Butterfield as Ender tries hard and is probably a good choice, but he has a very demanding role and can’t quite pull it off. 

Ender’s Game’s biggest flaw is that it feels much too light for the themes it is dealing with. Those themes, which focus on the use of violence, are what makes Ender’s Game particularly fascinating. From basic training (training dominates the film) to engagement with the enemy, what are the means which the military can justify using to achieve their ends? If those means include the abuse of a young boy and other children, are there any ends which can justify that (you know my response to that question)? The film is remarkably ambiguous in its presentation of these issues.

I understand that Card’s novel is standard reading in the U.S. Marine Corps. That being the case, it is hard to imagine any response to the book and film other than general condemnation. But both the novel and the film raise questions about Ender and his use of violence, and about dehumanization, xenophobia, and ends and means, that defy such an easy condemnation. At the very least, the film is a thought-provoking discussion-starter and is therefore to be praised.

So I will award Ender’s Game a solid ***. My mug is up.

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