Saturday, November 02, 2013

"Ender's Game": A teen can rule the known universe, and, yes, the kids really are all right

Well, “Ender’s Game” is quite a ride.  The title is based on the name of the hero, a tween character Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), barely old enough for his voice to be changing and not old enough to shave.  And, yes, with the help of a duplicitous space force military cadre (sired by characters played by Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, and Viola Davis), the teen, having learned his skills from video games (like the character Sean Walker from NBC’s “The Event”) eventually saves not only the Earth but masters the known universe.  He can become a god, own his own planets.
  
The movie is based on the novel by Olson Scott Card, who reportedly earns nothing from movie tickets from Summit Entertainment. (So, there’s no point in a boycott.) Card has attracted controversy by reports of anti-gay views, at least against gay marriage.  For what it’s worth, I’ll give the link to the Mormon LDS Desert News of Card’s 2008 op-ed opposing legal recognition of gay marriage, here.  What’s interesting to me in the piece is his reference to “other people’s children” (“OPC”).  It probably doesn’t seem too surprising that the author would pen a story where a gifted enough young man winds up owning his own planets, although he hasn’t yet experienced eternal marriage in the sense of LDS. It must be reported that there have been some calls to boycott the film because of reports of more extreme views of Card, as in this Washington Blade piece by Konrad Juengling of Portland State University, link here.  I don't see any such targeted extremism in the film itself. 
   
What is interesting to me about Ender’s character is that he really does have a grown-up’s brain. He has compassion and empathy (especially for animals and other life-forms), and he sees around corners to the downstream consequences of actions.  Dr. Phil talks about that a lot. I have known a few teens ("wicked"?) who are this mature at this age.  And there is a bit of paradox in the “strategic” point of his thinking.  Small for his age, a monitor is removed from his neck while he is still a junior space cadet. Some bigger kids immediately bully him – and this is not OK – but he keeps counterattacking to make sure they will never attack again. If the kid played chess, he would surely use the Svehsnilov Sicilian.  That idea will form the basis of all military strategy, even if it comes with honor and character.
  
The background of the film is important.  A few decades ago, Earth was attacked by insect-hive-like beings from the “Formic Planet”.  Earth drove them back.  But they are reported to be massing again. The aliens look like those of the 1996 film “Independence Day”, and so do the space ships, and we don’t have Bill Pullman any more. Now, the Space Patrol (that reminds me of a popular Saturday morning program in the 1950s) is building a force of teens with gaming skills.  (I think they could have cast Jason Ritter, from “The Event”, in this one.)
  
The barracks living conditions in the space stations, while immaculate and moden, are indeed military, with inspections and a lack of privacy, even for emails and social media.  I could just hear in my mind former Senator Sam Nunn arguing why open gays couldn’t be in the military (back in 1993).  But this force at least has equal opportunities for women, but most of the kids show a machismo and temper that seems inappropriate. Only Ender is mature enough for the challenge, even if his interpersonal relations seem Janus-faced and sometimes fool people.  He can question military authority and make it stick.

  
Here’s an official site.
   
The vision of the alien planets is interesting. There are at least two, and they are desert-like.  The aliens have built skyscraper hive cities all over the planet to look like termite or ant hives.  The film does not explain how the “space patrol” can travel maybe 20  light years (to one of the Gliese M-star systems) so quickly and communicate by email (perhaps even Facebook) to home instantly.  Somehow the speed of light barrier has been transcended.   

Some observers claim that the movie leaves major details out of the book.  But the work (listed on Amazon as about 350 pages) originally was conceived as a short story and grew to be the "Emder's Quintet".  
    
The film does remind me of Disney’s “Sky High” (2005), by Mike Mitchell.
  
I saw this in a small auditorium at the Regal Ballston Saturday afternoon, nearly full. The theater, even in a small auditorium, could make better use of its space up front for a larger screen.  And there were too many previews, with one Lionsgate preview shown twice.
  
It make take Ender a while to get home.   He has to find another planet for the Queen’s eggs to let the life start over.  But any such planet will be his property.
  
Wikipedia attribution link for a red dwarf system here.

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