Saturday, 26 October 2013

Buggers

[Contains major plot spoilers for Ender's Game]

It's not often I get to see a movie the night it opens, still less I've been waiting 25 years for the movie!

Opening in the UK today, (I can't believe we're getting it before the US) Ender's Game has been a science fiction classic since the book was published in 1985.

I fell in love with the book as a teenager. Like Harry Potter caught kids of a decade ago and the Hunger Games over the last few years I was hooked on Ender's Game from the first page.

I'm too involved with this story to give an unbiased review. Ender's Game utterly rocks but I don't know how to sell it. The fact is that is hard to sell a movie to adults where the star is a 12 year old boy. Hard to sell a movie to kids when that 12 year old boy displays psychopathic tendencies and uses extreme violence only to be rewarded when he does so.

Maybe this explains the almost complete lack of popular knowledge of the book. Though is it possible that The Hunger Games and similar books only actually caught on once the movie was released?

I took my two eldest kids to see Ender's Game. I read the novel to my seven year old daughter last year. Child killings and all. She loved it and wanted to go see the movie, however having sat through those same two killings on screen I'm not at all sure when I'll let her see it. Maybe we'll do the same as we did with The Hobbit: show her an edited version.

Ender's Game is a powerful story. The movie did extremely well to compress the most important plot points into such a short film. Everything key to the book is there. They even managed to include dozens of homages to extended scenes in the book.

Although as a teenager I initially focused on the battle school and command school sections of the book for the awesome complexity of the games and the possibilities they offered; I re-read the book again and again as an adult for the psychological complexity. The cruel manipulation of a child by ruthless authorities; the fact that the child - Ender - knows he is being manipulated, fights back and yet in the end goes along with it since he realises he is needed; the concept of a child grasping that a warrior must understand his enemy and that to truly understand the enemy one must love that enemy.

The film manages to include a much reduced but still enjoyable set of Zero G battles and command school battles. The graphics are excellent. And the film also manages to emphasize the emotional and psychological battles that are taking place.

I wondered if they would leave out the beginning when Ender loses his monitor, an alien device that allows Graff to see what Ender sees; to feel what he feels; to hear his thoughts. But no, they leave that in. I wondered if they would leave out the ending where Ender hunts for and finds the queen but no, they include that as well.

Everything important was left in, at least, everything important to the overall story. The complex relationship Ender has with Bean in the book was reduced to a few homages. The same as Ender's relationship with his launch squad and the other commanders.

I guess I only had two disappointments with the film. The first was the politically correct refusal to use the word bugger. Why? Is it due to the sexual connotation of the word? Or the use of the word as a curse? For either reason, bugger is what everyone in the book called the formics. Bugs, buggers. Giant ant like creatures that ironically attacked us first since they thought we were not sentient; just ants to be stood on.

This concept is subtly but brilliantly shown in the film. Whether it is obvious without having read the book I can't say but in case you've seen the film and have some questions, here are a few answers...

The ansible in formic technology that humans captured after the first invasion. It is instantaneous communication and the buggers use it to speak to each other across the galaxy in real time. It is in effect an extension of their own form of telepathy.

The humans use the ansible in the film to communicate and direct the battles in real time across the galaxy but what they don't realise is that the system is still directly plugged into the buggers home world. The buggers are in effect hacked into the entire human network without the humans realising it.

The buggers attempt to use this to communicate with Ender through his mind game (another scene that young kids may find disturbing) to great effect.

My second disappointment was the ending which felt flat. Maybe my expectations were just too high. I'd be interested to see what you think after watching the film. I'm not sure how else they could have done it since it was true to the books ending but even so, I wanted something more rousing to leave the cinema with.

However there was so much complexity and emotional depth to the characters that I will want to watch it again. Asa Butterfield was utterly convincing as Ender. He was absolutely the right person to play him.

Harrison Ford was also excellent as Graff. The wooden voice over which marred the trailers was left behind the moment he was allowed to act and he played the role of manipulator well.

Viola Davis as Anderson was also amazing. Casting "her" was an inspired choice as even my daughter commented on walking out of the movie. Played by a woman the emotional range of the character was far more convincing than it would have been from a man.

Ben Kingsley was perfect for Mazer Rackham. I was extremely worried that he might reprise his role from Thunderbirds but no, he played the character just right, even managing to attack his pupil in his first scene. "Only the enemy can show you where you are weak."

The changes to the plot that allowed Valentine and Petra to drive the story forward were inspired.

On a geeky note, it was amusing to hear other men in their forties walk out of the cinema discussing the relationship between Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow... Nice to know I'm not the only geek out there!

Whether the movie will become a classic of science fiction I can't say but I enjoyed it and recommend it. If you haven't read the book you can buy Ender's Game from Amazon.

Oh, and by the way, if you enjoyed Ender's Game you might enjoy the other stories set in the Ender universe. They are all quite different to Ender's Game but emotionally rich and very satisfying to find out what happens when Ender finally finds somewhere for the queen to call home...

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