Kids armies? Pint-sized soldiers? The best and the brightest, plucked from their families at a young age to learn combat maneuvers and military strategies to potentially protect our planet from an alien threat?
Gavin Hood’s adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s seminal novel Ender’s Game isn’t what we expect out of family-friendly science fiction. But because it thinks outside the box, and speaks to intelligent concepts with genuine emotional weight, I believe it deserves to be viewed and discussed – at length. Ender’s Game is bold, interesting and challenging storytelling, and it will reward many who are insightful enough to rise to its level.
We’re experimenting with something new in the When Can I Watch column, as well. Many of you have said you prefer video. So I’m bringing the conversation into the digital age. I’ve recorded Green Light and Red Flag discussions. I’ve also bullet-pointed the highlights. Give a listen, and shoot me any questions on my Twitter feed, @Sean_OConnell, any time.
Green Lights and Reg Flags
The Green Lights:
- The effect in Ender’s Game are spectacular. Gavin Hood pours his budget into his visuals, and kids will get a thrill out of exploring the training rooms, spacecrafts and eventual alien territories the movie re-creates.
- Parents will be able to have stimulating conversations about “eadership after Ender’s Game screenings. Ender (Asa Butterfield) is tasked to lead his Dragon Army into battle, and the movie charts his course in ways that parents can celebrate… and point out to their own kids.
- The movie also puts intelligence on a pedastal. Only the best and brightest are recruited by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford). The negative connotation of “nerd” doesn’t exist in this universe. The smart are treated as heroes – something that doesn’t happen enough in mainstream Hollywood movies.
The Red Flags:
- Bullying is a common thread in Ender’s Game. Our hero is picked on mercilessly when he begins training in Battle School. There are fights, but the language isn’t harsh, and the violence isn’t over-the-top (though one student is badly injured in a fight).
- Ender’s Game might be too smart for its target audience. The movie doesn’t pander, which means older kids will plug into the hero’s journey more than younger kids, who will enjoy the visual spectacle but might not understand the weightier meaning of the actions on-screen.
- The final act of Ender’s Game is very mature. It involves the genocide of an alien race, with young Ender dealing with the guilt that comes with his actions. I admire Hood for embracing the dark tone of Card’s novel, but parents should know… this isn’t a lightweight sci-fi adventure. It gets heavy.
Ender’s Game is meant to challenge young audiences (and their parents). It asks – and answers – very interesting questions about WHY we go to war, and who is best prepared to lead in times of crisis. These conversations will test and inspire teenagers, likely, though the sci-fi elements of the film are so spectacular, I can understand why kids and families might want to check this out.
In some ways, Ender’s reminds me of the Hunger Games movies – which, at heart, were about children fighting to the death. There are fine performances and spectacular effects that can be enjoyed on the surface level, but deeply concerning human issue lying in wait behind those visuals, as well. Know that they are there, in case your kids aren’t ready for them. I’d say the ideal age for Ender’s Game is 11 or 12 and older.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That with My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.