I remember reading the novella Ender’s Game in a 1979 issue of Analog. I never read the novel it was expanded into, but I remember the original story: Ender’s training, the weightless game of propelling themselves towards the opponent’s goal, and Bean. I remember vividly one of the battles in space, and the concern of one of the commanders that they were “pounding the nails in”—meaning that they were crucifying Ender. Then there was the final game, where Ender would be up against their finest game master, hopelessly outnumbered in ships. There was the odd reaction of the commanders, who went into despair because they didn’t understand Ender’s strategy—odd for adults to react to a game that way. And of course, the climax of the story, and how Ender fared. After all these years, I remember the story.
This movie delivers. Eleven year-old Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is chosen to lead humanity’s efforts to fend off an alien threat. Trained from a young age in strategy, he simply thinks and reacts differently than a normal person would. Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) sees him as a thoroughbred and keeps pushing and pushing him. But as Major Anderson (Viola Davis) asks, “What will be left of the boy?”
The supporting actors playing the other children in the combat school are terrific. Normally, the temptation would be to show child actors doing cutesy things, but the movie shows them in all their earnestness. The weightless games they play are astounding, and it was right to wait until the special effects business was sufficiently mature to make this movie. All the moral quandaries are there on whether it is right to make Ender such a matchless child soldier, but we know how this will be resolved, we know Ender will be in it for the finish.
Ender’s Game is the best movie I’ve seen this year. (As a note of caution, this movie features children, but was written for adults. Middle graders and below will not truly understand the moral quandaries. Think of William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies.