A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ender's Game is the highly anticipated adaptation of Orson Scott Card's best-selling 1985 sci-fi novel. While there's not any sex and only very minor language, there's a lot of violence in the militaristic story: from two near-fatal personal fights to weapons-based strategy competitions to simulated war battles to the annihilation of an entire planet and alien race. The book author's outspoken political comments have led to controversy surrounding the film, but the film itself promotes positive messages about empathy and moral responsibility, honest communication between adults and children, and peaceful diplomacy as superior to military aggression.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Based on author Orson Scott Card's beloved sci-fi novel, ENDER'S GAME takes place in the 22nd century, after humans suffered millions of losses during an invasion from the Formics, an insect-like alien race. Not wanting to be caught defenseless in the event of another attack, the world governments created an international fleet that trains gifted children for military service. At a military academy, Colonel Hyram Graff (Harrison Ford) singles out Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a humble young genius, for promotion to Battle School -- in space -- for further training. Ender performs so flawlessly he's promoted again to Command School and is offered an opportunity to command the entire fleet -- making him humanity's only hope against the Formics.
Is it any good?
It must've been daunting to adapt such a complex military sci-fi novel into an accessible film for young and adult audiences; writer-director Gavin Hood should be commended for his screenplay. It streamlines the story down to its core: protagonist Ender Wiggin's development from childhood prodigy to genius military commander. Ender is one of the most compelling (and messianic) young protagonists since Harry Potter hit the big screen. Like Harry, Ender is "chosen" and must live up to his reputation, but unlike Harry, Ender doesn't get any chances to just hang out with friends. He's being groomed to command not to have fun.
The performances are all spot-on, with Hugo star Butterfield growing into an impressive (and intense) teen actor. Hailee Steinfeld is well suited to be courageous and compassionate Petra, and the rest of the young actors -- including Abigail Breslin in a pivotal supporting role as Ender's loving older sister Valentine and Hannah Montana alum Moises Arias as Ender's Napoleonic rival -- do a fine job of keeping up with the adults. The grownups are extraordinarily good at playing well-meaning but morally ambiguous characters: Ford; Viola Davis as military psychologist Major Anderson; and a late appearance by a Kiwi-accented Ben Kingsley (reuniting with his Hugo co-star) as legendary military general, Mazur Rackham. With its talented cast, thought-provoking themes, and pulse-pounding battle simulations, Ender's Game is a sci-fi flick with surprising depth and moral insight.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about one of the movie's central themes: compassion/diplomacy versus cruelty/warfare. How is Ender gifted at both war and peace? In the end, do you agree with Ender or with Col. Graff?
How are the relationships between adults and children portrayed in the movie? Are the miscommunications, omissions of truth, and expectations of obedience realistic?
This movie is controversial, partly because of political remarks made by the book's author. Should you separate a work of art from its creator or not? What does it depend on?
On one hand, the officers tell the young soldiers that their peers are competition not friends, but on the other hand, they expect the soldiers to work together under a leader. Are these ideas contradictory or can competitiveness still strengthen teamwork?
Those who've read the book, how does the movie compare?
- In theaters: November 1, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: February 11, 2014
- Cast: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Harrison Ford
- Director: Gavin Hood
- Studio: Summit Entertainment
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Book Characters, Space and Aliens
- Run time: 114 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sci-fi violence, language, and thematic elements
- Last updated: June 29, 2020
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