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Ender’s Game’ a loss

Juan Ramon Cancio Vela | Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Over fall break, I had the chance to read the book “Ender’s Game,” and what a ride it was. This novel was published in 1985 by Orson Scott Card and has led to a series of 12 novels, 12 short stories and 47 comic book issues. The universe Card created is very interesting, and he has definitely set himself apart as a premier science fiction writer. To date, he is the only science fiction writer to have won both the Nebula and the Hugo awards (the two most important literary awards for science fiction novels) for two consecutive years. This book has finally received a much-deserved cinematic adaptation, which came out Nov. 1. 

Prepare to be introduced to the universe of Ender Wiggin

The book and movie offer a window into a faraway future when the human race has made contact with an intelligent alien race that humanity refers to as “Formics” or “Buggers.” However, the alien race has revealed itself as hostile. The name “Buggers” should point to the rather obvious conclusion that the aliens are insect-like, and as in most other science-fiction universes, insect-like in this universe translates to a hive-mind mentality. 

The plot centers around a child named Andrew Wiggin (Ender), who is born into a world where there is an ever-present danger of impending alien invasion. The beautifully insane premise of the movie is that an International Fleet has been forced to resort to recruiting and training brilliant young children, essentially beginning at infancy, to be the commanding officers of the entire fleet. This is arguably a natural culmination of the necessities of the fleet, since children are veritable crucibles of creativity. They lack the cynicism and fear that would hold back an adult from trying some of the crazy tactics that might lead to victory. 

What happens when the human race is faced with the very real threat of extinction? The armed forces go about creating the super soldiers required to increase Earth’s chances of survival – at any cost. With no oversight, the International Fleet offers these child soldiers a guiding hand in tactical thinking with hopes that the children’s creative-thinking skills will define the coming war. It is fascinating to see how the storyline unfolds in this author’s vision of a world where the cost of survival is morality, and perhaps to a greater degree, our humanity. 

The movie’s cast has a few big-name Hollywood stars, including Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley, and was co-produced by the author, Card. This should have guaranteed that Hollywood would do justice to the intricate world Card had painstakingly created for the better part of three decades. Unfortunately, this movie falls short and almost falls completely into the trap of relegating itself to being just another visually stunning science-fiction blockbuster (we’re looking at you, “Transformers 2 and 3”). The problem with trying to transform “Ender’s Game” into a movie was finding a balance between the child side of the main character and the side of him that appears to have wisdom far beyond his years. 

Asa Butterfield, who played Wiggin, performed admirably, but was unable to transcend convincingly from child to an adult confined to a child’s body. Although it was a valiant effort, it seemed as though the child side of the character was undoubtedly able to dominate the film, and this failure to capture the gravity and pressure that Wiggin experiences inevitably detracts from the seriousness of the situation. This is quite sad because the material had some solid potential to go far deeper into the psyche of this troubled child and the trauma he had to endure so that the innocents of Earth could have a chance at survival.

I will admit, though, that just because it didn’t meet my expectations of what the movie could have been, does not mean that it was necessarily a bad film. The lack of character development was a little disheartening, but the action sequences were a highlight. The battle room fights were awesome but were surpassed by the crowning jewels of the action, the space battles. 

If you are looking to watch an action flick, go right ahead, I guarantee you will enjoy it. However, do not expect the storyline or the characters to reach even half of the potential exhibited in the books. 

Contact Juan Ramon Cancio Vela at jcancio@nd.edu