Monday 16 December 2013

The fuss over Ender's Game

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card is a terrific sci-fi book.

It's about ultra-intelligent children being trained to defend the earth in a space war against alien invaders. That could be the plot of a really empty action story, but there's a lot of meat in Ender's story.

The ethics of war, the treatment of children, the brutal realities of a highly competitive childhood, the importance of friendship and leadership.

I read it and loved it. I also enjoyed the sequel Speaker for the Dead, which is an utterly different book but equally clever.

Ender's Game was always destined to become a movie. Unfortunately, between the book coming out (1985) and the movie being made (2013), Orson Scott Card has made many anti-gay statements.

To be fair to Card, he's basically reflecting the views of his church. He's a Mormon, so we can understand where he got his ideas and who he shares them with.

To be fair to the rest of us, who cares? In a pluralistic world, if you can't justify something without reference to your god, then you can't justify it at all.

So that leaves fans of sci-fi in a bit of a bind. Can you see the movie without supporting the man who wrote the original story?

There's a movement saying we should all skip the movie for exactly that reason.

But on the other hand, apparently Card will make no money from it - he's already been paid all he will get.

And as star Harrison Ford pointed out, the movie has nothing to do with Card's views on homosexuality.

I agree. And I think there's little point in punishing the hundreds of people who made this film, especially if the one person at whom the punishment is aimed remains unaffected by it.

So I went to see Ender's Game yesterday. And it was very good.

It's a beautiful adaptation of a complex story, which has been pared down to its necessary bones.

I particularly love that they include background concepts from the book without trying to over-explain them. It gives the film a real richness of detail.

For example, Ender is referred to as "a third" a few times. In the book, there's great detail about population control and what his parents had to go through to have a third child. It was a rare privilege to have more than two kids, only allowed because these particular parents had the potential to create a world-saving genius. But the movie spends only a few lines on the idea, allowing the suggestion of a whole political reality without having to narrate a lecture about it.

The script is generally good, though occasionally clunky. It's particularly difficult to get the conversations of genius children to work as they would in real life.

Asa Butterfield is excellent as Ender. Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley lend appropriate gravitas to their military roles. Kingsley's subtle New Zealand accent is a particular joy, as people rarely get it so right.

The one cast member that doesn't work for me is Moises Arias. His acting is fine, but he is supposed to be a threatening bully, and that dynamic doesn't really work when Asa Butterfield looms over him by about 9 inches.

The effects are wonderful. The zero gravity battle training module is particularly gorgeous, children tumbling around a gigantic glass dome in space, the earth rotating underneath them.

I've read the book, so I knew what was coming. I'd be very interested to hear from people who have only seen the film - I particularly want to know if the ending caught you by surprise.

In the end, it's up to you to make the moral choice about going or not. But looking past that issue, this film is well worth seeing.

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