Saturday, December 28, 2013

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Ender's Game

2013, Gavin Hood (Rendition, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) -- cinema

Back in university days Mukey made a bookshelf as a project in sculpture class, if I remember correctly. It was made from slats of extra-splintery, very soft wood. The marvellous beast of a bookshelf was wobbly, uneven and entirely charming, sort of like Mukey. We fastened it to the wall and began to gather the books that were supposed to be on it. 'Supposed to' meant all the books you have been told you should read, by different people of different interests and temperaments. This included classics, best sellers and a long list of scifi books I had heard so much about but never got around to reading. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card had its place on the shelf. But that it had a place says something about the book in scifi culture; love it or hate it, it should be read by all scifi fans.

At least then. You see, some revolutionary books have a shelf life, excuse the pun. Unless they are so well written or have such wide ranging and impactful themes, those books that introduce a concept that is then rehashed and rehashed and reinvented time and time again, well their own impact softens with age. Especially if they deal with a technological aspect of culture. In the 70s, the idea of remote control of computer systems, of tele-presence or virtual reality was non-existant.  For me, in those early 90s or late 80s when I read the book, that was still the take away. Wow. What could be done with technology of the future! (p.s. SPOILER) That kids could control far away ships of war from the comfort of their star bases was a great idea. Now, in a time when we control scalpels from another continent, not so much.

But the other aspect of the book, about the use of children as weapons of war, because they have an ability to react and adapt that we lose as we grow older, well that still applies. Even more so, when we watch 14 year-olds kick our asses in online games. That is what the movie adaptation followed, the morals of manipulating children to further our agendas. This is not The Hunger Games where the kids are just fighting for our enjoyment (Evil!!) but a much more blatant play on our beliefs and morals. For me, the answer is an easy one -- lose the innocence of children or the planet?  Easy answer. But in a beautiful looking movie, full of CGI technology and completely animated VR, they don't give up that moral dilemma and I applauded them for their heavy hammering of the real moral they have to deal with -- what if you were wrong? What if you ended up sacrificing these kids for all the wrong reasons? What then?

I need another paragraph, as I really haven't mentioned much about the movie itself. It does smack of The Hunger Games  but more so of Harry Potter. I am not that fond of the change in paradigm for young heroes, from forced into quests against great evil, to training stories, boarding schools full of cranky headmasters. Everybody is going to school. But the third act of the movie is in space, in real war, where any childishness of Harry Potter is dispensed with for the nail biting playground of the battlefield. Where the whole tele-presence aspect, not being a surprise for me, had no impact, the roles. Harrison Ford has long since stopped being Han Solo or Indiana for me, here he is completely enveloped as Colonel Graff making the hardest decisions. The kids are both weighed down by the bootcamp in space and their potential but do brilliant jobs of retaining their... age. Its quite a well done little movie but its a shame that it stayed small. It came to the cinema and then just went away. I guess the lack of impact it holds now was transmitted through the movie as well. Shame.