'Ender's Game' Movie Shows Hero's Lasting Appeal

Orson Scott Card's science fiction novel Ender's Game has been a touchstone for teenage readers for nearly 30 years. Critic Kenneth Turan says a new film version shows why Ender, the story's hero, is so appealing to young people.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Orson Scott Card's science fiction novel "Ender's Game" has been a touchstone for teenage readers for nearly 30 years. LA Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan says the new movie version shows why the story's hero is so appealing to young people.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: The rise of misfit Andrew Ender Wiggin to a position of power in the adult world is every bullied youngster's dream. But just because those wretched adults need Ender to fight their battles, that doesn't stop them from being devious and deceitful. It ain't easy being young.

"Ender's Game" is set in the future. Children who can think outside the box are trained via computer simulations to fight an alien race of insects called Formics. In the novel, Ender moves from age six to 12, but the filmmakers have compressed the narrative into one year. They cast awkward-looking and skinny Asa Butterfield as young Ender. He has a powerful ally in Colonel Hyrum Graff, played by Harrison Ford, the gruff commander of Battle School, where serious warrior training takes place.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ENDER'S GAME")

HARRISON FORD: (As Col. Hyrum Graff) Top test scores in class, highest battle room ratings. But you have a habit of upsetting your commander.

ASA BUTTERFIELD: (as Ender) I find it hard to respect someone just because they outrank me, sir.

FORD: (As Col. Hyrum Graff) Puts you in a difficult position, doesn't it?

BUTTERFIELD: (as Ender) Yes, sir.

TURAN: The colonel is convinced that all the boy needs is to be toughened up, so he places Ender in increasingly difficult situations and monitors the results. This exploitation does not sit well with a more sensitive officer, played by Viola Davis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ENDER'S GAME")

VIOLA DAVIS: (As Maj. Gwen Anderson) It used to be a war crime to recruit anyone under the age of 15.

FORD: (As Col. Hyrum Graff) When the war is over we can have the luxury of debating the morality of what we do.

DAVIS: (As Maj. Gwen Anderson) When it's over, what will be left of the boy?

FORD: (As Col. Hyrum Graff) What does it matter if there's nothing left at all?

TURAN: "Ender's Game" is a film for young people which adults can eavesdrop on if they wish. So it's not any more sophisticated than it needs to be. But its strong special effects make its battles effective. And it helps that the 1985 novel dealt with issues that still trouble us. Drone warfare, pre-emptive strikes, and the morality of child soldiers are on society's mind now more than ever. As it turns out, "Ender's Game" is our game as well.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for this program and also the LA Times.

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