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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ender's Game

While Mud is pretty easily the film of the week, Ender's Game is definitely worth checking out as well if you're a sci-fi fan. As for the rest of the films released this past Friday, they are either not worth talking about or I haven't seen. I will say this this though, the awful animated flick Free Birds is a strong contender for worst animated film in one of the worst years for mainstream animation in living memory. 

Much of the attention that Ender's Game has received has focused on the heavily bigoted, homophobic actions and beliefs of its source novel's author, Orson Scott Card - who is also listed as one of the film's many producers. And, to be fair, it's hard to blame people for refusing to support a film that will financially benefit Card and presumably his crusade against gay rights as well. The creators and actors involved in the film have publicly distanced themselves from Card and his views but for some people that's clearly not enough and that's obviously up to each individual viewer.

What is interesting about both the novel (which I have actually read - albeit quite a long time ago) and the film though, is that Ender's Game is not only a story that doesn't propound such radically conservative viewpoints, but is one that specifically demonizes the oppression of one group by another. It tells the story of Ender Wiggins, a young soldier, who is trained and manipulated to lead a force against an alien race, but is primarily about human deceitfulness, xenophobia and the ruthless brainwashing of a civilization's youngest member. This is hardly the stuff of the political and religious extreme far-right.

What this means is that entirely in spite of its originator, Ender's Game is a smart, moralistic piece of speculative fiction and the novel is a deserved classic of its genre. When it comes to the film though, director Gavin Wood (back on some kind of form after the disastrous X-Men:Origins - Wolverine) had his work cut out for him as he had to find a way to make a notably uncinematic novel into something that would work on the screen. And, to his great credit, though Ender's Game is not a rip roaring success, it is a really solid attempt at a difficult text and, most crucially, is one that doesn't shy away from the complicated morals and often bleak tone of the novel. It's not exactly a surprise that the film didn't exactly light up the box office but it at least failed commercially on its own terms.

Ender's Game has inevitably been compared to Star Wars, Harry Potter and the Hunger Games but, as many many other have noted, it's probably closest to Paul Verhoven's criminally underrated Starship Troopers - itself based on a science fiction novel by a somewhat controversial author. Both films have bug-like alien adversaries and both of them focus on the militarization of the young, but, perhaps most notably, they are both films where the audience may well be rooting for the wrong people.

The main difference between the two though, and why I don't think I will ever like Ender's Game as much as Starship Troopers, is a difference of tone. While Troopers is irreverent, wickedly satirical, bawdy and gleefully over the top, Ender's Game is a much more buttoned up, stoic tale that gets its message across with psychological dread, rather than ironic humour. The novel's sequel, Speaker for the Dead is even more po-faced and grimly philosophical, but make no mistake, despite the youth of most of its protagonists, Ender's Game is a serious, moody tract on war, innocence and totalitarian manipulation.

It may not be much fun then, but it is still a highly engrossing, intelligent piece of work with an all round stellar cast, an impressive visual aesthetic and even the odd emotional sucker punch or two. It certainly isn't for the action-hungry genre fan but anyone who likes solidly crafted, smart science fiction stories would do well to check it out.


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