Author Orson Scott Card is a polarizing man, but there's no denying that his seminal 1985 novel "Ender's Game" is one of the most famous and beloved sci-fi books of the past 50 years. For years Card himself said he didn't think it was possible to adapt the book, which takes place in the mind of a young military genius living in a future world that is constantly on alert to defend itself from an insect-like alien race. "Hugo" star Asa Butterfield plays the titular Ender Wiggin, a military wunderkind the likes of whom Colonel Hyram Graff (Harrison Ford) has never seen. Young Ender is promoted from his military academy to Battle School, where he's singled out and expected to prove himself worthy of commanding the entire International Fleet against the possible alien threat.
Violent and intense, "Ender's Game" is rated PG-13, but could be a good pick for mature tweens who've read the book and can discuss the various political and personal themes that have made the book such a beloved title in the sci-fi canon.
1. Read It Then See It? "Ender's Game" is a 28-year-old best-selling novel, so if you have a kid curious about or already into sci-fi, this is an excellent opportunity to get them interested in a respected, award-winning book. My 11-year-old son read the book over the summer and loved pointing out the differences between the book and the adaptation. If your child (or you!) is familiar with Card's book, definitely add "Ender's Game" to your must see list this fall.
2. How do you feel about kids and violence in movies? If movies like "The Hunger Games" make you wary about kid-on-kid or kid-perpetuated violence in movies, be warned that the entire premise of "Ender's Game" is that in the distant future. The world government starts training soldiers as children to see if they have the right combination of military strategy, aggressiveness, strength, and wisdom to lead other soldiers as officers, or in Ender's case, commander. There are a few instances in which Ender gets into physical altercations and nearly kills the guys who started both fights. Ender also winds up responsible for countless deaths, and he has trouble dealing with the consequences. The violence has consequences, and there are overarching themes about a moral war vs. an immoral war; war versus diplomacy; and aggression versus compassion. Make sure to discuss the heavy issues after seeing the movie.
3. Do you worry about sex/language? For once, you don't have to worry about either issue, because there's no sex or offensive language (beyond mild insults like "coward," "fool," "misfits," "smart ass") in the movie. In one shower scene, Ender is shown shirtless wearing nothing but a towel, but it's not a sexualized scene; it's the lead up to a fight. There is a very chaste, sweet relationship between Ender and his slightly older friend Petra, but it's clear they have feelings for each other. They hold hands and hug a couple of times, and she sits on a bed to comfort him while he's unconscious.
4. Who will enjoy the movie most? In addition to built-in fans of the book, who will naturally want to see how the first-person narrative book got translated to the big screen, this is a movie that will appeal to mature tweens, teens, and adults who like sci-fi stories, military intrigue, and socio-political commentary. The violence isn't quite as intense as "The Hunger Games," but the issue of child soldiers is complicated and disturbing, so make sure your tween is ready for the mature content and realizes what's really going on in the on-screen "games."
5. What are critics saying about "Ender's Game"? Critics are mostly pleased with the adaptation, and its release day average on Rotten Tomatoes is a certified-fresh 61 percent, with a slightly less enthusiastic 51 on Metacritic. "'Ender's Game' is more than a parable about bullying, or a disquisition on the concept of the 'just war.' It's also a rousing action film, especially in Imax," writes Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post. Sara Stewart of The New York Post was also impressed: "A big, dark film that should satisfy the many fans of the Orson Scott Card novel and engage newcomers, too... Plus, it's kinda nice to see a boy at the heart of one of these dystopian sagas, for a change." But some critics thought it was bland despite the stunning visuals: "With so much to work with, it is disappointing that Gavin Hood's adaptation is not much more than the world's coolest video game," writes Peter Keough of The Boston Globe.