Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Ender’s Game (2013) ***½

PG-13, 114 min.
Director: Gavin Hood
Writers: Gavin Hood, Orson Scott Card (novel)
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Aramis Knight, Suraj Partha, Moises Arias, Nonso Anozie

“Ender’s Game” is a surprisingly fresh and powerful science fiction film. Based on the popular book series by Orson Scott Card, the film is singularly focused on its story and message. That story tells of a future when an alien invasion that nearly decimated the planet 50 years earlier has lead to a new approach to warfare. The military uses children with gifted minds to coordinate their battles in a virtual environment that seems inspired by video game play.

Our hero is Ender, a rare third child with two older siblings who have already failed to progress in the elite training program for the military space fleet. A grizzled veteran officer played by Harrison Ford recruits him. Ford is convinced that Ender is “the one” who will lead the human race to ultimate victory over the insectoid alien race. The training is rigorous and requires the children to mature faster than many are equipped. The program is highly competitive, and many cadets haze others into submission. But Ender has a natural ability to strategize and lead his fellow cadets with a softer tone than most.

Of course like many a great sci-fi, “Ender’s Game” isn’t really about what it is about. It’s about something else entirely. I’m not even so sure it is about war necessarily. It’s about government control over people and information. It’s about the dangers of fear tactics being used by the government to direct its people to a certain type of thinking. Its about a government acting “in the greater good” without providing its citizens with enough information to know whether it really is for their good or not.

There are also many issues explored at different levels by this science fiction. From the pressures we put on our children to perform to the tasks older generations deem important despite the younger generation’s superior skill with the technology they’ve been provided to the simple notion of using children as a skilled labor force, it is a movie as complex as its execution is simple. There are no subplots, hardly any exposition and all the dialogue and action serves the single purpose of the plot. Its surface simplicity is the key to its underlying thematic success.

“Ender’s Game” is pure science fiction, without the added space opera elements that have clouded many science fiction films since “Star Wars”. It reminds me of the masterful “Gattaca” in its crisp and clean presentation. We all could do with many more movies like “Ender’s Game”.

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