Orson Scott Card’s Ender saga has become a classic of military sci-fi literature for young adults. Beginning with the publication of the first installment (expanded from a novelette) in 1985, Card eventually developed the series into a juggernaut containing 12 novels, 12 short stories, and two comic book series. Now the series makes its leap to the screen, with a November 1 release date from Lionsgate. The film stars Asa Butterfield, Abigail Breslin, and Harrison Ford, and is directed by Gavin Hood.
The first book in the series, Ender’s Game, winner of the Nebula and Hugo Awards for best novel in 1985 and 1986, respectively, is set in a future world in which humanity is threatened by an alien species called Formics (or “Buggers”). The government cultivates young geniuses, training them to battle the insect-like villains. In the book, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a child soldier who, at age six, is enrolled at a military school in space. In the film, 14-year-old Asa Butterfield plays Ender, who struggles with feelings of estrangement, fear, and the harrowing intensity of the training with his fellow child soldiers in the zero gravity facility called the Battle Room.
Blogger Germaine Lussier of Slashfilm published a detailed report following his visit to the Ender’s Game set. According to Lussier, the decision to make Ender (and the other child characters) older in the film than they appear in the novel was based on the fact that “while casting, Hood and his team saw kids of all ages and realized six-year-olds simply couldn’t pull off the intense drama. They decided on casting mostly pre-teens and young teenagers… because they felt it was important to keep the characters a few years shy of puberty to maintain innocence and the basic themes of the story.” Lussier also reported that the novel has been “streamlined” to focus more exclusively on Ender’s story, rather than on his family background, and that “the entire story now takes place over the course of one year,” while the novel extends far beyond that time frame. Additionally, director Hood decided against using 3D technology both for budgetary reasons and because he felt that 3D might have a detrimental effect on the film’s emotional resonance: “There were two ways to shoot the movie…. It’s either big spectacle, wide lenses or it’s long detailed lenses that examine what the heck this boy is going through. Those kind of shots are not good in 3D. There was something very pure and honest about shooting in 2D,” Hood told Lussier.
The film stands to draw legions of fans familiar with the series who may anxiously anticipate seeing the Battle Room – among other elements of the novel – depicted on screen. In recent weeks, film buzz, posters, interviews with cast members, and behind-the-scenes peeks have popped up; Indiewire, for example, is hosting an interactive, panoramic tour of the film’s set.
Meanwhile, the Ender Quintet’s publisher, Tor, is gearing up for the film’s release with numerous tie-in editions and boxed sets. Tor editor Beth Meacham sees the film’s potential to draw both adult die-hard fans who have read every book as well as younger viewers new to its futuristic universe who may relate to the young cast and coming-of-age themes: “the film is geared to a wide audience,” she said.
A Controversy Brews
With notable exceptions, authors of books adapted to screen don’t often take a front seat in the media’s reporting on the film. In the case of Orson Scott Card, however, the author has attracted significant attention as a result of his anti-gay statements, including a 2008 opinion piece in which he denounced gay marriage (as well as his past anti-gay commentary).
His views have resulted in widespread public debate and backlash from several organizations. Perhaps most notably, Geeks Out, a fan group devoted to celebrating what it calls the “queer Geek community,” has called for an outright boycott of the film.
A number of editorial pieces have reopened perennial questions about where the separation between art and an artist’s personal views begin. Responding to the storm of media coverage, Lionsgate issued a statement that, in effect, distanced the studio from Card’s anti-gay views. The studio also announced that it will hold an LGBT benefit premiere of the film.
The movie’s director recently spoke at a London promotional event for the film, during which he adamantly rejected Card’s anti-gay views and spoke about his decision to make the film: “It's hard. We love the music of Richard Wagner, but he was a deep anti-Semite. I love Braveheart, but I don't like what Mel Gibson has been saying about Jewish people. Art and their creators often diverge. Art is an expression of our higher selves and we who make art don’t always measure up to the art we create.”