Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Art, Fine Art and Ender's Game

If one wants to know the very essence of Hollywood creativity, look no further than Ender's Game. It is the very height of what makes Hollywood great: shallow, stupid, yet empty of ideas, it contains the most predictable twist ending in the history of science fiction.

I first read the screenplay, or at least a screenplay, for Ender's Game in 1991. A very good friend who was trying to find me work after my studio, dWi, crashed and burned, gave it to me with the hopes that I would be so enthusiastic that I would literally bubble up with a billion ideas (I guess about how to use computer animation on it, which was by no means an accepted technique at the time), that all my free ideas would somehow magically make me a consultant to the project, to "be attached" in some way. What I knew and he knew (but would not admit) is that those who are associated with a project early on are rarely called to the altar when the project goes for real. The reason is simple: when the director is selected everything changes. It is the director (and his/her producer) who selects the team. Anyone associated with the project from before that has a less than average chance of being involved unless you are contracturally written into a project (which is unlikely, very unlikely, unless you are "above the line" (1), and people in visual effects are not).

Presumably our hero getting his suit calibrated on the game grid in Ender's Game

And so my friend was one more time disappointed in me when I refused to show any enthusiasm for this crass and juvenile property. Misplaced enthusiasm is a sine qua non for participating in Hollywood, and a worthless tool such as myself is expected to be endlessly enthusiastic and work for free in the hope that the Master will smile on their broken and exhausted slaves sometime in the future.

As I read this worthless piece of space kiddie porn, I thought, who are they kidding ? The book is a well-known and trite sf book for children by a well-known and well-meaning hack who has not, so far as I know, emerged from his very serviceable but pedestrian writing youth. Its an entertaining piece of fiction for children, relatively young children, about how studying for video games in an elite academy leads to saving the solar system from the alien menace.

Ender's Game in its original form.

Can you say "Last Starfighter"? Good. Now, say "Last Starfighter only much bigger" and you will get the idea.

But at least Last Starfighter (1984) had two things going for it.  First, it was the last film performance of the great Robert Preston.   And second it was a genuine use of computer graphics & animation in entertainment.   I am pretty sure that this is a III (Information International) project and one that John Whitney, Jr had a hand in selling (e.g. getting the filmmakers excited about using computer animation in their film).   

The youthful video game player, notice the graphics game control in the heavens above him.  Look familiar?

Our future savior of the galaxy or solar system (I forget which) playing what used to be known as a "video game" in its "coinop" days.  I love the term "coinop".

But don't worry. They have major actors to "open the movie" as we say in Hollywoodland. We have Harrison Ford! Well, thats nice, I like Harrison Ford. But having Ford is not going to make a shallow plot less shallow, or an obvious ending less obvious.

And how sad for Digital Domain, the prime effects supplier, (2) to end their long streak of movies on this piece of overhyped crap. From Titanic to Ender's Game? Is that it? Now that they have their new Chinese Masters, controlled by the Tong and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Chinese People, we will see where they go from here. I wish them all the best.

After all we are all going to be working for the Chinese, so its really not so different from what the rest of us will experience.

Ender's Game (2013) on IMDB

The Last Starfighter (1984) on IMDB

1. "Above the line" is a Hollywood term meaning many things.  In classic Hollywood there was literally a line in the budget separating the producer, wrtier, director and stars from the rest of the crew.

2. Nancy St. John is the effects producer for the production and is one of my favorite people in this so-called business.  Among other things, she is an alumni of Robert Abel & Associates, Digital Productions and Industrial Light and Magic.

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