For director Gavin Hood, "Ender's Game" stands somewhere between his Oscar-winning "Tsotsi" and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine": a heady sci-fi adventure about the dehumanizing impact of violent video games and simulated warfare on our youth. Throw in the hot topic of drones, and you could say that time has definitely caught up with Orson Scott Card's acclaimed futuristic novel.
"As a parent, you bring your children into this world and they're faced with massive, accelerating technology," Hood admits. "They watch war on screen in real-time on CNN that is video game-like, and they have video games that are increasingly realistic about war. And this blurring of game and reality is quite disturbing, and drone warfare is the ultimate expression of video game playing. I have twins that are six and it's exciting and frightening to see how they've picked up the new tech."
No wonder Hood was so taken with the compelling story of the adolescent Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), who has become a heroic icon to millions. He wields power among his student peers in Battle School through a keen understanding of human nature while mastering advanced computer simulations like a preternatural wizard. However, constant bullying from being a social outcast and the pressure of being the world savior prays on his soul.
Thus, it's a tug of war between violence and compassion for Ender and what fascinates Hood. "What I try to do is seduce the audience with beautiful visual effects into a world where, when you play that final game, it's really fun and you're getting a thrill and you want to win with Ender."
But at what moral cost? There are certainly tactical advantages to simulated warfare in a world where survival comes first and individual needs are secondary, which Harrison Ford's manipulative Col. Graff emphasizes. But in a story that explores lies, betrayal, and genocide, what's the end game?