The movie Ender's Game premiers today, the highly anticipated movie based on Orson Scott Card’s very popular 1985 military science fiction novel.
Set in the 22nd century, the movie is set on Earth, which suffered massive losses when invaded by Formics, insect-like alien race. Humans hope to fend off another devastating attack and so the government trains children for military service. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield, also seen in "Hugo"), a gifted boy, is recruited and Colonel Hyram Graff (Harrison Ford) singles Ender out. Ender progresses through training and is eventually selected to lead humans into the battle that will determine the future of Earth. The star-studded cast also includes Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Abigail Breslin, Hailee Steinfeld and former Disney star Moises Arias.
In the novel, Ender is 6 years old when he enrolls in battle school. In the movie, however, writer-director Gavin Hood aged Ender to be a late tween and early teen - at the beginning of the film he is 12 years old.
The decision to age Ender was made to target the adolescent market. That bullying factors in prominently and gaming is central to the film underscore the it is targeted to tweens and teens.
Hood explained to Hero Complex of the Los Angeles Times that he aged Ender because "I just thought as a parent as well, with young children, it’s not often you can send them to a movie that I hope they can have a really good time watching and have fun relating to their peers, because not often movies are made for that tween audience."
"it also has some ideas that young people might enjoy talking about afterwards. It’s not just a good guy takes on a bad guy and wins. This is a young person who’s complicated, who is in a sense struggling for his own moral identity," Hood explained.
But is this really a movie for tweens?
It is rated PG-13. Common Sense Media found that the movie has "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." It recommended the film for ages 12 and older.
Reviewing the movie for the New York Times, critic Manohla Dargis seemed to concur. "Childhood can be tough in movies, but rarely do screen children suffer for our sins as they do here."
Of Ender, Dargis says, "He’s rational and brutal, which is a harder sell on the screen, where every punch carries an unsettling intensity that the director . . . has trouble managing . . . And while he’s an appealing presence, little Ender can’t help feeling like a pint-size psycho."
The critics also praised the movie, in large part because it has the substance Hood sought to achieve. In a review in the Washington Post, Michael O'Sullivan said that the Ender's Game "benefits greatly, at least for those who care about such things, by actually being about something — the morality of war and its methods — in a way that most movies of this type are not."
The Chicago Tribune's Michael Philips said, "At heart, 'Ender's Game' relays a simple story of a little guy caught in a web not of his own making, learning to stand up for his beliefs. The target audience could do worse."
The movie, like the book, is thought provoking and would give parents much to discuss with their tweens and teens. Find Common Sense Media's suggested conversation topics from the movie here (at the bottom of the page).
Whether Ender's Game is a tween movie depends largely upon the tween.
If it will make your tween think and engage critical thinking, it's worth considering, but that doesn't mean it is for every kid. Parents should trust their gut on whether their kid can handle the violence. An 8 year-old will process it differently from a 12 year-old. And it's not breaking news that some tweens are far more sensitive than others.
Also, follow your tween's lead. Is he/she begging to see the movie? If not, don't push it. My tween has never mentioned it, so I won't bring it up. If she does say she wants to go, I'll ask why and we'll talk about it before making a decision, one not based solely on the fact that "everyone's going to see it."
If a tween is going to see this movie, parents should join their tweens.
Time Magazine’s Christopher J. Ferguson wrote of taking his kid to see The Hunger Games, “Parents are free, of course, to use their moral compass to decide which media is appropriate for their families, but some of my own research suggests that the best option is for parents to consume violent-themed entertainment alongside their children rather than to either shield kids from it or leave them on their own.”
I think that advice will hold true for many movies soon to be released, including “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.”
Going to the movie with your tween will not ly buy you some credit with your kid, it will give you a starting point for a conversations about a variety of important topics.
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