Movie Review: Ender’s Game

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Spoiler alert: I tried to be careful, but this is a review of a movie based on a best-seller. If you have already read the book, there won’t be any surprises here.

Ender's Game movie poster

Took the whole family to see Ender’s Game last night, IMAX-style. I have been waiting for this movie for more than 20 years. I read the book around 1990 when my then-future brother-in-law casually recommended it. I had no idea who Orson Scott Card was, I had never heard of this book, and the plot twist at the end caught me completely and totally off-guard. In short, I was utterly blown away.

In subsequent years, I followed OSC’s career very closely and read everything I could get my hands on. I own many hardcover first editions of his books because I could not wait for the library to get their copy and I certainly could not wait for the paperbacks.

Because boy did he make me think! I’ve struggled with the fact that some of his books are soooo good and others are soooo bad… I’ve tried to figure out what the heck does it mean to be Mormon and how does that play into his writing… I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to understand his views on gay marriage and pondered whether it’s ok to appreciate the art of someone whose politics you despise…

But eventually there came a time when I began to feel a bit BDTD with respect to Mr. Card. He writes the same story over and over again, and I don’t mean just literally, although that is literally what he did with his “parallel” novels about Bean etc. But I mean that even in the books with vastly different settings, e.g. Alvin Maker, Nafai, etc., he is still writing the same basic story, wrestling with the same themes, creating characters with the same voices & choices. For many years that was ok with me because I like those stories, those themes, those voices & choices, you know? But more recently I’ve just become less interested: Thanks, OSC, we get it.

Sigh.


Anyway, the movie

Hm. This isn’t the post I meant to write. I was going to talk about the movie, not my history of ups and downs with Mr. Card. But I do feel that my status as former fangirl plays into my feelings about the movie too. Because as much as I may be BDTD with OSC, I was SO EXCITED TO SEE THIS MOVIE!

Aaaaaaand, it was just about what I expected. Namely:

Amazing special effects. As a big budget film I knew the battle room would be awesome. I knew it would be the coolest thing ever to see their desks, the Giant’s Drink, the simulators, their outfits, the hook, the buggers… And it was, oh yes it was. Especially in the IMAX theater. The Battle Room was a little disorienting actually. I had to keep reminding myself that the enemy gate was down, haha.

Great casting. In fact the acting was even better than I expected. Many of the characters looked perfect for their parts, especially Bonzo, Mazer Rackham, Peter. The boy who played Ender was fabulous, and I really didn’t mind that he was so much older than he is in the book. Also thought Harrison Ford was perfect.

Poor pacing. I expected this because the book itself is pretty tightly constructed. Clearly they would have to cut stuff to make a 90-minute movie, but when everything in the book is so essential what do you cut? Well mostly what they did was compress the training time, which was very disappointing. You don’t get the sense that they have been up there for several years. You don’t feel that gradually increasing sense of urgency as Dragon Army’s schedule gets tougher and tougher, because they only showed one battle. And you don’t see the connection between the tactics & strategy he learns in Battle School and how he uses those skills, um, later.

Another disappointment was how they compressed Ender’s experience with the Giant’s Drink. You don’t get the sense of him playing it over and over and over again, obsessing over it, as his frustration gradually mounts until finally, well, you know, the thing he does.

Liberties taken. There were remarkably few, actually. I was very relieved that they didn’t add in a romance between Ender & Petra. There were some “reveals” that happened in a different order but that was ok, probably necessary. I wasn’t expecting to actually see you-know-who, but whatever, they did a nice job making her look both scary & beautiful — exactly as she should be.


The central themes of Ender’s Game

Everything I said above has to do with the icing on the cake of the movie. The special effects, the actors, plot details, etc. But when you get right down to it, Ender’s Game, like all great sci-fi, is a novel of ideas. It is an exploration of whether there can be a just war, the meaning of genocide, moral responsibility, and forgiveness. These ideas are much further developed in the sequel, Speaker for the Dead, but they are at the core of Ender’s Game as well.

These themes are brought out to a certain extent in the movie, but they could have been a lot more. Two things in particular were missing that would have done much to make the moral ambiguity explicit.

First, the ansible. Briefly mentioned in the movie, but with no explanation or discussion of its significance, the ansible is the device that allows for instantaneous communication through time and space. It is what allows the kids to conduct the battle in real time even though they are light years away from the battlefield. And where did humans get this technology? From the buggers. Think about that.

And second, the Hive Queen. The central fact of the novel is that killing drone workers (the buggers) is not like killing humans. For the Hive Queen, losing one of her drone ships is like clipping a fingernail. She has NO IDEA that when she kills human fighters she is killing a unique sentient creature every time. When Ender makes her understand this, she is appalled. To understand one’s enemy is to love them, and a very profound love and forgiveness develops between Ender and the Hive Queen. This is hinted at in the movie, but not nearly enough. And that is a shame.

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Hello hello hello

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Well… if anybody should happen to stumble across this… it should be obvious that I am quite the on-again off-again blogger. Lately the urge to rejoin the blogosphere, such as it is, has been welling up in me again, so here I am. In honor of my revivification I have changed themes and cleaned things up a bit. (Btw, I LOVE this new theme, writr. The circular doodad at the top perfectly suits my circular gravatar, don’t it? Very nice typography too.)


So. I have been knitting up a storm lately. About six months ago I learned how to knit socks, and I have been doing nothing but knit socks ever since. Socks are fun because:

  • they don’t take very long to make
  • the heel makes a nice milestone (halfway!), to give you that sense of accomplishment
  • if your two socks don’t turn out identical, or if you screw up a bit, who cares? No one looks that closely at other people’s socks.
  • It’s a relatively cheap project. One skein of yarn makes a pair of socks and costs around $20, whereas the same quality of yarn for a sweater would be over $100.

The PROBLEM with socks is that it is so tempting to stockpile yarn. Because like I said, one skein makes a pair, so you don’t have to have a pattern in mind before you buy. You know you will use it eventually, somehow. And sock yarn comes in the most amazing colors. I went to a fiber show last weekend, my first ever, and came home with this:

Stash!

The fiber show was very cool. Way bigger than I expected. I have no interest in spinning my own yarn, but watching other people do it, I could kind of see the appeal. Knitting is a sensory pleasure for me, I love the feel of good yarn in my hands, and I imagine spinning also feels good. Still, not going there.

Here are some other pics from the show. I was totally not expecting this…

awww cute, but not going there either... whoa!

Booking through Thursday: Resolutions

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Booking Through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday asks: Any reading resolutions for the new year? Reading more? (Reading less?) Reading better books? Bigger books? More series? More relaxing books?

Well I wish I could resolve to read more, but unless someone figures out how to fit more than 24 hours in a day that ain’t gonna happen.

The idea of reading “better” books is interesting though. Wonder how you would define better. Prizewinners? Penguin Classics? Books with footnotes? Presumably “better” books are educational in some way, or expand your horizons, or make you a better person for having read them.

Actually I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that wasn’t educational in some way, or expanded my horizons in some direction. I’ve never read a book that didn’t make me think. Even if what you’re thinking is “gee this was a crappy book, and this is why” — well isn’t that educational?

And another thing: I don’t like deciding in advance what I’m going to read. Although the idea of reading challenges is charming, I don’t think I could ever do it. My favorite way of choosing What To Read is to browse the shelves of my local library and pick books that I’ve never heard of, because they have intriguing titles or pretty covers.

I bought a book yesterday. An impulse buy, which is extremely uncharacteristic of me. But I was at the bookstore with my daughter, buying a birthday present for her friend. When this book caught my eye I Could Not Resist. The Trapeze Artist, by Will Davis — a novel written by an actual trapeze artist!! If reading this doesn’t make me a better person I don’t know what would! <grin>

Classical music in the movies

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Charming post in The Atlantic about classical music that you learned from watching movies. I have one of my own to add — the swimming pool scene from Harold & Maud. I can never hear that piano concerto without thinking of this:

I have always wondered how Harold managed to float so perfectly flat and still on top of the water. I’m a very confident swimmer but I don’t think I could do that.

My mother is extremely dense. Physically, I mean. Her body literally will not float. She is fairly athletic but she was never able to learn to swim. It is pretty hilarious to watch her try. She just sinks straight to the bottom of the pool, every time. And then I say to her, “Mom, you rock.” har har har

Anyone have any other classical music / movie scenes to contribute? I’d love to hear ’em, with or without accompanying random unrelated thoughts.

Thank you Béla Bartók

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Because I am the meanest mom in the world, I force my two younger kids to practice the violin every day. And I mean every day. They never get a day off, unless it is their lesson day or they are actually throwing up. If there is not enough time for both practicing and homework, practicing comes first.

I have absolutely no qualms about this. The kids think it is a normal part of life — they brush their teeth every day, too. Sure they complain sometimes, but they do it, and they are reaping all those awesome benefits of both brain and character development. It is also quite a challenge for me as a parent, since I practice with them. It is very hard sometimes, but soooo worth the effort.

Even so, there are days when “real” practicing just ain’t gonna happen — in other words, when Mama is fried. This is where dear Béla Bartók comes in to save the day. See, he wrote some violin duets. 44 of them, to be precise, written for children. Not only are they amazingly beautiful, but they are also amazingly educational. The separate parts are extremely simple (especially the beginning ones) but putting them together is challenging and gives lots of opportunity to practice chamber music skills. My kiddos have been working on them for a while, the first half dozen or so anyway. Since they each know both parts we can usually fill up a good half hour with them taking turns. It makes a nice change from the usual practice routine and involves no effort from me whatsoever. Yay, Bartók!!!

Post a day? Seriously?

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Oh my goodness, did I really do that? Yes indeed — I just put one of those post-a-day badges in my sidebar. Posting every week day is probably a more realistic goal, actually, but I would like to try this. Incentive: if I post every day for… two… months… I will reward myself by purchasing the custom design upgrade. And once I have the custom design upgrade I will make a few changes around here oh yes I will. Not big changes, mind you. Just a few little typographic tweaks that will allow me to use certain other themes that I have heretofore rejected. I will spare you my litany of pet peeves regarding web fonts, blockquote styling, etc etc. All I will say is the idea of the custom design upgrade is a POWERFUL MOTIVATOR bwahahahahahaha.

I do have some resolutions, of course. Here they are:

Lose 30lbs. Started dieting today (cutting carbs & sugar). Woo hoo.

Get a physical. Probably should do that before I start dieting but oh well. I haven’t seen a doctor in, like, a decade. My “primary care” physician moved her office and I don’t even know where it is. I also should get my hearing checked. I am turning into an old person.

Chop wood, carry water. This is shorthand for a Zen saying which I only learned recently: “Before enlightenment, chop wood & carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood & carry water.” Not saying I am enlightened or anything. But I need to make myself perform the tedious tasks of daily life more routinely, mainly housekeeping & financial. I know that if I do them mindfully they won’t seem so tedious.

Happy New Year, and see ya tomorrow!

Slogging

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Hello everyone! I hope your holidays were swell. Me, I am still slogging through the festivities. That’s right, we still have four birthdays to celebrate this week. There will be a combined celebration, but it is still shopping & planning to be done. Plus I somehow agreed to host this year. Ugh.

Frankly, I can’t stand this time of year. Especially Christmas.

My husband’s family places an unhealthy degree of emphasis on wishlists. The emails start around Thanksgiving. The harassment, I should say. I hate it. I myself can rarely think of anything I want. My clothes are functional; they have all the books I need at the library; my electronic gadgets all work fine. I am just not a material girl. What I really want is for people to do things for me. If someone could take my son down to the DMV and get his learner’s permit set up, that’d be great. We also need our passports renewed — I would be thrilled if someone else would make that happen. And hey, our kitchen knives need sharpening. They’ve never been professionally sharpened ever, not because of the cost but because of the boredom of the errand. If someone would do that for me, I’d be truly grateful. Much more truly grateful than I am for the gifts off my wishlist. The wishlist that I racked my brains to come up with, just so that others could feel good about spending money on me. Sorry but that is fucked up.

The wishlist thing isn’t good for the kids either. If you aren’t very careful they come away with the idea that toys = love, that the Christmas spirit is about asking for and receiving the biggest box of Legos, that not getting the coveted iPad is a reason to despair, that iPads are something to covet, that coveting is even a thing.

But you want to know the worst thing of all, about Christmas? No one in this family is even Christian! I was raised by atheist Jews; I call myself Jewish but I don’t even observe the High Holidays. My husband did grow up going to church but his mother later made a completely break from the church (not sure why). As a result our kids are a bunch of heathens and we are under no pressure to change that from either side of the family. Which puts a further layer of pointlessness on our celebration. I would much prefer this holiday if we celebrated it religiously. I would have no problem going to midnight mass or whatever. If we went through all this wishlist rigmarole because even one of us felt moved to celebrate the birth of Jesus, well that would be fine with me.

Because, here is a thing about me. I am fascinated by other people’s religion. Not just fascinated, but deeply moved. I have no interest in participating in organized religion myself, but I love it that other human beings do. And you know what? People talk to me about religion. I have had so many conversations with random people, e.g. moms on the playground, standing in line at the bank, etc etc, where within minutes the other person is telling me about their church. Sometimes (if I’m lucky) they will get into really nitty gritty doctrinal stuff. And then after a while they mention that they can’t believe they are telling me all this, they don’t usually talk about their religion with strangers. And meanwhile I am eating it up and hoping for more. I would be a very willing participant in a religious Christmas even though it is not my religion. This is true of Halloween too. I despise Halloween. But if it were still celebrated as a religious holiday, omg I would love it.