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Ender's Game

Entry updated 24 August 2020. Tagged: Film.

US film (2013). Summit Entertainment/OddLot Entertainment/Chartoff Productions. Directed by Gavin Hood. Written by Gavin Hood, based on the novel Ender's Game (August 1977 Analog; much exp 1985) by Orson Scott Card. Cast includes Nonso Anozie, Moisés Arias, Abigail Breslin, Asa Butterfield, Viola Davis, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley and Hailee Steinfeld. 114 minutes. Colour.

Closely following the 1985 version of Orson Scott Card's tale, Ender's Game tells the story of a young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin (Butterfield), who with other precocious youths is sent to a military Space Station to be trained to fight against the Formics, an insect-like Alien race that has previously mounted an almost successful Invasion of Earth. Distinguishing himself with his remarkable talent for strategic thinking as the leader of a fighting team, despite the jealous enmity of some of his fellow students, including opposing team leader Bonzo Madrid (Arias) whom he more or less kills in a personal fight, Ender is rapidly promoted by overseer Colonel Graff (Ford) to receive advanced training in deep space, despite the misgivings of Major Gwen Anderson (Davis). But his personal attendant, Sergeant Dap (Anozie), embarrassingly played by a Black actor, reassuringly signals his profound loyalty to the young tactical genius. After being further schooled by Mazer Rackham (Kingsley), the man who long ago realized that the Formics were a Hive-Mind species, and thwarted the original invasion by killing their queen, Ender leads his team in what he believes to be a simulated battle and destroys the Formics' home world; but he is then informed that he was directing an actual battle, with devastating success. Guilt-ridden over his eradication of an intelligent alien species, Ender then realizes that enigmatic scenes in an Adventure Videogame he had been playing (see Games and Sports) were messages from a Formic queen attempting to gain rapport, and to demonstrate her species' non-aggressive intent. Soon after the xenocide, he is guided, by cues that he is almost certainly uniquely capable of reading, to the lair of this queen, who is now dying; retrieves from her a hidden egg; and resolves to search through the galaxy to find a new home for the species.

While a generally well-made and faithful adaptation of a classic sf novel, though its conspicuously underfunded CGI sequences tend to become claustrophobic, Ender's Game inadvertently reveals the foundational absurdity of Card's premise, as Graff and a succession of other adults keep watching with improbable awe as the young Ender repeatedly demonstrates his utterly astounding abilities. In fact, there has never been a human civilization which looked to its youngest members for leadership in times of crises, and it is extraordinarily unlikely that humans would ever do so in the future, especially with the fate of the entire race at stake. This moderately safe premise is not seriously shaken by hints that Ender, and his two supernormally competent siblings, have been Genetically Engineered to unveil themselves as wonder-workers on behalf of Homo sapiens [for Hidden Monarch see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. The story of Ender's Game, then, is characteristic of that category of the juvenile novel (see Children's SF) in which young protagonists save humanity's bacon, making it appropriate that Card's novel has indeed been republished for the Young Adult market.

The film's ending suggests an openness to filming a sequel based on Card's Speaker for the Dead (1986), but that vastly more mature novel seems a questionable basis for a commercially successful film, and the box-office failure of Ender's Game makes a direct continuation unlikely. If a further film in the overall Ender sequence is called for, the much less demanding parallel subseries comprising Ender's Shadow (1999) and its sequels (for details see Orson Scott Card) would stand a better chance of being greenlighted. [GW/JC]


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