Home » Years » 2013 » Ender’s Game •••••

Ender’s Game •••••

Ender's_game_cover_ISBN_0312932081Starring: Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld
Director: Gavin Hood
Screenplay: Gavin Hood, Orson Scott Card
Action/Adventure/Sci-FI, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 114 minutes
Release Date: November 1, 2013


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, we seem to have reviewed a lot of movies this year with the word “end” in the title.

Ender’s Game is the film to end all films!  Let’s recap.

We meet a young teenage boy named Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a cadet in training under the watchful eye of Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis). Wiggin and others are training for what is described as an inevitable encounter with a race of alien beings called the Formics, who attacked Earth and nearly destroyed humans 50 years ago. Graff is impressed by the way Wiggin conducts himself both in training exercises and in his interactions with other cadets, especially the bullies.

Ender has a strong empathic sense that allows him to think like his enemy and use those thoughts against them. When he is inducted into the service for the final war on the Formics, he finds opposition in the form of Bonzo – a short but tough leader of the Salamander group. Bonzo wants to be rid of Ender as he has designs on being the commander to squash the Formics. But Ender uses negotiation skills to put Bonzo at ease.

Greg, Ender’s Game impressed me. I was kept on the edge of my seat for two solid hours while I watched a remarkable ensemble of great actors, both very old and very young, perform their craft with considerable skill and intensity. In Ender’s Game we witness the gripping journey of a gifted young boy who is shaped and mentored into battle-readiness by elders we both admire and revile.

This movie’s coming-of-age story is superior to any other I’ve seen. Asa Butterfield as Ender deserves great props, but so does everyone else involved in the making of this film, from screenplay writers to production designers to cinematographers. It is absolutely fascinating to watch Ender become transformed under the tutelage of Graff. Indeed, Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Graff is a joy to watch. Ford’s own transformation from action hero to mentor figure in the movies (see 42, for example) has been sealed to perfection.

I agree with you. The special effects in this film aren’t just for flash and show – they’re part of the story. The movie is based on the book of the same name by science fiction author Orson Scott Card. I’ve read the book and the movie is very true to the original. Unfortunately, things that took a chapter to expose in the novel sometimes get barely a sentence in the screenplay. For example, the fact that Ender has been bred from birth to be a tactical wizard and the ethical issues about using youngsters, some less than 13 years old are only touched upon. Still, there is a lot to think about with this film. The ethical issues it serves up are as relevant today as they were in 1985 when Card published the book.

Absolutely. In fact, the movie works on many levels. It works as a thriller by portraying a bevy of great characters all urgently preparing for imminent war against a formidable foe. It works at a cerebral level because it raises some profound questions about how best to face one’s enemies. Is conflict always unavoidable? Do you destroy your enemies or show understanding and compassion?

The film also works as an ethical examination of the role of children in wartime society. If an entire society’s existence is at stake, can children be exploited to the point of irreparable harm all in the service of saving the society? The movie also works as a textbook examination of leadership. How does leadership emerge? And what is the best way to develop successful leaders? We see these issues dealt with vividly and to great effect in Ender’s Game.

This movie could only be improved if it were longer. You heard me say it, I wanted more. The relationships with Ender’s sister and brother were not played up enough to give us insight into how these affected his psyche. Still, if you paid attention these elements were exposed later.

One of the themes I appreciated was the in-fighting that occurs among intellectuals. These are high-performing, high-IQ children. There is a scene early in the film where Graff singles out Ender as being the smartest kid in the room. Ender complains that Graff made the other kids hate him. Orson Scott Card (and screenwriter/director Gavin Hood) really understand the competition among not just young people, but full grown adults who are in intellectual competition.

Ender’s Game is pretty much everything you want to see in a movie. There is a skinny, boyish underdog of a hero who is thrown into a world fraught with danger, a world that will forever change him and everyone around him. There are mentors to admire and mentors to question. The villain is said to be vile and deserving of eradication, but we’re led to wonder if this is true. The hero encounters one growth opportunity after another and resolves these situations in sometimes surprising ways.

Ender’s Game is the complete package. It easily earns 5 Reels out of 5. The hero story couldn’t be more textbook, more moving, and more satisfying. Joseph Campbell himself couldn’t have concocted a more powerful journey with nearly all the hero stages revealed in full form. Ender Wiggins is one of the most memorable characters in the movies in 2013.  I have no problem awarding Ender a full 5 Heroes out of 5 as well.

Movie: reel-5 Heroes: superman-5

I agree Scott. Previous movies this year, especially Science Fiction films have played up the special effects and action in the films. Ender’s Game starts with some deep philosophical issues and layers on great visuals and action. Even Star Trek Into Darkness (which springs from an anthology TV series that dealt with the thorniest issues of its time) cannot touch the emotional and intellectual content of Ender’s Game.

I’m happy to award Ender’s Game 5 out of 5 Reels for a quality movie going experience. And Ender gets 5 out of 5 Heroes for an engaging and mythical hero story. I’m nominating Ender’s Game” for the Reel Heroes Hall of Fame.

Movie: reel-5 Heroes: superman-5

I concur. This is a Hall of Fame movie if there ever was one.


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