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November 1, 2013
Review: Ender's Game

Enders-Game-TrailerIf you've heard the title "Ender's Game" in the news lately, it's probably in reference to the book's author, Orson Scott Card, and his blatant anti-homosexual views -- or about the proposed boycotts against his work and its film adaptation.  But let's forget about that for a second.  Apart from a historical precedent of separating artists from their art, it's important to review a film on its own terms.  So how is "Ender's Game"?

Based on one of the most popular young-adult sci-fi novels of all time, the film tells the story of Ender Wiggin, an adolescent drafted to train at Battle School in order to defend humanity against an extraterrestrial threat.  Ender is played with appropriately reluctant strength by the capable, if unspectacular, Asa Butterfield ("Hugo").  He's a scrawny outsider whose dichotomous personality of violence and compassion is constantly waging a war inside his head. Harrison Ford headlines the film since he has the most famous name, but as Colonel Graff, he doesn't do much here other than scowl and growl (which he's admittedly very good at).  Viola Davis fares a bit better as Major Anderson, who's much more concerned with Ender's emotional well-being than Graff.  Ben Kingsley has a commanding presence in his small role as a tattooed Maori war hero.  But the highlight here is undoubtedly the cast of teenaged actors, most notably Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld (Oscar nominee for "True Grit") as Ender's mentor/friend/crush Petra.

What's most exciting about the film aren't the run-of-the-mill, video game-like action scenes, but its surprisingly rich themes (which have made the book such a lasting classic)  The story touches on issues including: the dangers of xenophobia; the importance of empathy; the emotional cost of war; and a timely political allegory of young people going off to fight wars started by old, white men.  The film starts with a quote attributed to the character of Ender: "When I understand my enemy well enough to defeat him, in that moment, I also love him."  This complexity goes so far beyond the traditional black/white shoot-em-up mentality of most action films -- especially of the alien invasion genre (think "Independence Day", "War Of The Worlds", "Battle: Los Angeles", etc).  The compassion that Ender holds for his so-called "enemy" and his attempts to better understand a culture completely alien to him are admirable traits that more people in this day and age could afford to develop.

Considering this, those people attempting to organize boycotts against "Ender's Game" are completely missing the point.  A film that catches the attention of young, impressionable minds with flashy special effects and then tells them a tale of the importance of empathy might just be one of the best weapons against the kind of bigotry espoused by Card.  It's the height of irony, but "Ender's Game" just so happens to be that kind of film.


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Written by: Jefferson Grubbs
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