See It Instead: Ender’s Game Edition
Sometimes a movie comes along and makes you aware of an itch you never knew you had. Perhaps a review piqued your interest, or you’d rather stay in and pay yourself $10 for a small popcorn and watch a movie on the cheap. Perhaps you’re valiantly struggling through your queue on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and need a wise, cultured voice to direct you to where the real movie viewing gold is hiding amidst the shitty ninja movies and serial killer biopics. Well, look no further. See It Instead is here to take today’s new releases and guide you to what you should really be watching.
Ender’s Game (2013)
Hoping to wipe out the aliens this weekend, is Ender’s Game, the film adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s controversial and influential series of novels, novellas and short stories about a fictional conflict between humans and a sentient insect-like alien race. The plot centers on Ender Wiggins, a gifted and often unintentionally violent adolescent who is groomed by humanity’s coalition government to engage in increasingly difficult war games in order to meet any future aggression by the aliens. As his actions have global and universal ripples, Ender must determine for himself the role he wishes to play in the grand slaughter the extra-solar war has become.
Whatever. It’s more Sci Fi action in outer space, of which there is no shortage this year. Ender’s Game is also trailing baggage on account of Card’s vocal opinion on marriage equality. Will the boycotts effect your viewing of the film, or the bottom dollar at the Box Office? Who knows? Not to say this won’t be a spectacle worth watching and perhaps Hollywood massages away any latent social commentary, but maybe you want to avoid the messy morality and just watch these awesome movies instead.
The Serious Pick: Blade Runner (1982)
For fans of Harrison Ford, who want to see a morally ambiguous Sci Fi classic.
This Ridley Scott opus is universally hailed as one of the grittiest and best Sci Fi flicks ever adapted for mainstream consumption. Featuring a young Harrison Ford as the reluctant Replicant bounty hunter Deckard, a pre-crazy Sean Young as his possibly Replicant paramour, and a possibly pre-crazy but probably actually-crazy at this point Rutger Hauer as his Replicant quarry, this movie is chock-a-block with nascent talent.
In the near future, Replicants are fully autonomous biological robots, indistinguishable from humans, who perform all of the dirty work on humanity’s off-world outposts. When a Replicant goes rogue and tries to escape to Earth, Blade Runners are dispatched to hunt them down. Deckard is the best of the best, but is suffering from serious burn out. He is called in for one last hunt as a trio of extremely resourceful bio-robots escape to LA.
The moral aspect of enforced servitude of beings who cannot reliably be distinguished from humans and the hypocrisy of the class structure of the future society serve as a back drop for a well developed detective drama, with many trappings of classic noir thrillers. Down to period dress and mannerisms, this movie could have been called “Humphrey Bogart versus the Robots” and worked just fine. It’s a visual and intellectual treat, so queue it up already.
The Lighthearted Pick: The Last Starfighter (1984)
If you want to see a plucky young recruit commit xenocide in a heart warming manner.
Following on the craze of Star Wars mania, The Last Starfighter returns to Earth, but features the same youthful longing for the stars. Alex Rogan lives in a double wide trailer in a rural backwater, and dreams of getting out of town. With college a distant hope, Alex bides his time playing the local arcade machine, Starfighter, eventually becoming the highest scoring player. The kicker is that Starfighter is actually a pilot selection test scattered around the universe by the Rylan Star League (sounds like an obscure European soccer tournament to me) in hopes of attracting talented youth to aid in the fight against the evil Ko-Dan empire. An enigmatic and slightly sleazy recruiter named Centauri arrives (Robert Preston, of The Music Man fame, in his last role), swaps Alex with an android duplicate to care for his family, and whisks the youth away to the Rylan academy.
Once there, Alex is beset by doubt. The Emperor of Ko-Dan broadcasts the gruesome death of a Rylan spy, and Alex asks for the door. Reluctantly, Centauri takes him back to Earth, but the two are nearly killed by an assassin. It is revealed that a traitor has sold out Rylos, and all of the starfighter recruits are in jeopardy. Alex heads back to space, but is too late to stop the surprise attack which wipes out the fleet. Now left with only an experimental fighter ship, Alex confronts the whole of the Ko-Dan armada alone. Hope the Force is with him!
This film featured extensive CG work in an era when Tron was considered an opulent and gaudy amount of computer work. The story is hardly new, and harkens distinctly back to the first Star Wars movie, but is well plotted and affably acted. The ending is a bit cheeseball, but hey, Han Solo whooping like a red-neck while lighting up Darth Vader’s escort was hardly all pomp and circumspect. All in all, a charming story of youth dreaming big and being called on their bluff.
The Unconventional Pick: The Great Dictator (1940)
A twist of fate places the most improbable of heroes in control of great armies, to subsequent good effect.
Many critics of Ender’s Game cite the blithe and amoral ease in which Ender is given the power, and exercises said power, to end untold lives. In this black and white classic, Charlie Chaplin adopts his first speaking role as a displaced migrant who looks exactly like a war-mongering dictator in an analogue of Hitler’s Germany. Oppressed at every turn, our hapless hero is mistaken at the last moment for his murderous doppelganger, Adenoid Hynkel. Given the podium to address the army upon the eve of total war, the anonymous everyman delivers a speech for human solidarity and liberation that resonates throughout the ages.
Charlie Chaplin, famous for his silent antics, eloquently and passionately argues against discrimination and persecution in all their guises. Agitating for resistance in the face of British and American appeasement of Hitler’s aggression, The Great Dictator became a huge success after hostility broke out. It is a shame that all parties involved did not take to heart the message of Chaplin’s words.
Without further ado, here is one of the greatest speeches ever given: