by Brad Nelson 2/21/14
I read this novel by Orson Scott Card about ten years ago or so. And I considered it then about one or two notches above mediocre. It was certainly readable, but it was not what I considered upper-tier sci-fi.
So it goes without saying, this is one time when one could have a reasonable expectation that the movie could be better than the book.
Oops. Not even close. This movie is so bad it did little but evoke philosophical musings in me about culture and taste in general. More and more movies these days have this same stupefied formula: They are visually sophisticated (as Ender’s Game indeed is) but are thematically immature, dull, and somewhat artless. Although I’ll gain some eyerolls from the uninitiated crowd who doesn’t know the subtext to this idea, but surely this is another example of what Dennis Prager calls “Everything the Left touches it makes worse.”
And I don’t mean that Orson Scott Card is a liberal. Hardly. His site, The Ornery American, has, from time to time, produced some astoundingly good conservative critiques.
But there is a general dumbing-down effect in our culture (due to the Left) as particularly seen in and around Hollywood. We’re talking about what is surely an atrophying of just plain good taste and artfulness. This is the best explanation I have for yet another movie that looks the same, and is flawed in the same ways, as the last dozen I have watched (including the terrible sci-fi film with Matt Damon, Elysium).
But you didn’t come here to hear me wax high political theory but to read about the movie. And I must first warn you that there will be some spoilers. There is no other way to get to the heart of this movie without doing so.
The general premise of Ender’s Game is that the Earth, about fifty years ago, was attacked by a race of bug-like creatures called the “Formics.” Millions of people were killed when the Formics invaded Earth, but these invaders were eventually repelled. The military commanders expect to have to do battle with them once again, so they are forming an elite force…of children…to prepare for that eventuality.
This theme is barely plausible in the book simply because many of these “children” are portrayed less like children and more like savants. But as one review at IMDB.com aptly wrote:
…these 12-year-olds are supposed to be the best of the best on Earth, trained in a military facility to be Napoleonic commanders. But they come across as a bunch of little kids having a good old time playing Wii at a sleepover where they stayed up past their bed time.
And thus the very premise of this movie — which, in my opinion, was always hanging by a thread — is completely blown apart. The central character of the film, Ender (played artlessly by Asa Butterfield), comes across more as a Pajama Boy than a savant. Harrison Ford and Viola Davis take turns either throwing around stale commander dialogue or, in the case of Davis, psycho-babble. That is to say, there isn’t much depth to the adults in this film either.
And there is certainly little to no character development regarding the kids, particularly Ender. Memory does not serve, in this case (because I read the book so long ago), how Ender went from an unknown child to commander of all Earth forces (with the concomitant loyalty and respect of the people around him). That aspect doesn’t show up in the movie. Instead, this movie is a bit like one of those low-budget biographies of some famous person which zooms through time and is little more than a conglomeration of snapshots — as if showing various Kodachrome slides is the same thing as telling a story.
As that same reviewer quoted above noted about Ender’s lack of character depth and development:
Ender is supposed to become one of the greatest leaders in human history, as well as winning his soldiers’ respect to the point where they would “follow him to the moon without a space suite.” But the movie would have you believe that Ender won the allegiance of his hostile classmates by cracking a single joke.
That pretty much sums up the movie. Again, visually it’s interesting. And the one part of the movie that is semi-interesting is when they are in the zero-gravity “battle dome” taking part in military-style games. But that’s about all the praise I can heap on this one. The rest is basically just various doses of the same kind of dumbness we saw in such movies as Avatar or the more recent Elysium. If I were a paranoid I would think that Hollywood is producing such one-dimensional drivel just to get my goat.
If you’re interested in this story, skip this horrid movie and go right to the book where you will stumble upon the exceedingly dubious plot device that the military high command on earth has left the defense of earth to a bunch of yutes who are doing the equivalent of playing Call of Duty on the X-box.
And then (main plot spoiler alert), if that wasn’t dubious enough, they don’t tell these kids that they are actually battling the Formic aliens in real life (if only by remote control). They tell them instead that they are merely engaging in battle simulations.
I don’t know about you, but if you’ve ever seen kids play (let alone adults), you would definitely want them to know that such battles were real if only because kids tend to do a lot of screwing around when playing games. (Ooo…watch me do a wheely on the alien mother ship!) And what if, at the penultimate moment when they were ready to set off the Ender equivalent of the Wave Motion Gun, Ender had to go take a pee? Wouldn’t he have just hit the “pause” button and come back in a minute or two?
And then at the end (as I believe is consistent with the book) you get all this gratuitous hand-wringing and caterwauling about what a horrible thing they did. We destroyed an entire race of beings. Oh, boo hoo.
Still, in more artful hands than the hacks who produced this movie (including Orson Scott Card), there’s certainly enough material here to construct an exciting and engaging movie. It just seems that so few people these days know how to do so. • (3120 views)