This year, Orson Scott Card’s Nebula and Hugo Award-winning 1985 novel Ender’s Game is finally being brought to the big screen by Tsotsi writer and director Gavin Hood. Asa Butterfield plays Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, a misfit child who is bullied by his peers at school and tormented by his brother at home, and later selected for enrolment at the prestigious Battle School, a military training academy located on an orbiting space station.
The school collects together the best and brightest young children from all around the world, taking them away from their families from as young as four or five years old, and trains them daily to become the next generation of military leaders, in order to defend from a second invasion of an aggressive alien race called the Formics. In Card’s novel, the Formics went by the rather unfortunate nickname “the Buggers,” though it’s possible that Hood dropped that label when writing the screenplay.
Though the children of Battle School take regular classes as part of their schedule, the students are largely graded in their performance in the “game” at the center of their lives – a tactical strategy battle simulation that takes place in a zero-gravity room, where members of each army have laser pistols to shoot each other with and use floating constructs for cover, to help prepare them for the reality of space battle. In an interview with Empire, Butterfield gives an idea of how the battleroom and games will function in Hood’s film:
“It was really good fun. But yeah, wearing harnesses for nine hours, by the end of the day you’re glad to get out of them. It’s really tiring staying up there. And the chafing… it’s exactly as you might imagine. All through rehearsals we would spend an hour each day on the wires. And then we spent a month and a half shooting the scenes. There was plenty of time flying around.
“There’s a really cool sequence where I’m sort of spinning over backwards and I let go of my guns. They’re floating by my side just going along. As I push myself through these two stars, I spin back over and grab the guns, then shoot the people around me. I loved doing that.
“[The battleroom uniform is] called a flash suit. It looks incredible, but wearing it was pretty uncomfortable, because they were tight and thick and didn’t give you all that much movement. It’s like wearing three wetsuits and then putting on body armour over that. We had a few versions: a normal one, and then a slightly bigger one which let you wear a harness underneath. You wouldn’t want to wear one for more than an hour.”
The interview is accompanied by a brand new image from the movie, showing Ender wearing that uncomfortably harnessed flash suit in the battleroom as Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) watches over him.
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Given how much of the plot of the book concerns Ender’s rise through the ranks of Battle School and his performance in the game, there will hopefully be quite a few scenes taking place in the battleroom. There was a small glimpse of some battle sequences shown in the trailer, but not enough to get a good idea of how exactly the zero-gravity setting will be exploited.
In the book, many of the children have trouble to adjusting to the fact that the gravity outside the door does not apply once inside the battleroom, and subsequently continue to think in only two dimensions. There are plenty of ways that this sense of disorientation could be conveyed through deft camerawork, so hopefully when more battle footage is released we’ll find Hood convincingly creating a zero-gravity effect.
Remember, everyone: the enemy’s gate is down.
Ender’s Game opens in U.S. theaters on November 1st, 2013.