Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's Game has been called many things (a sci-fi version of Lord of the Flies, the precursor to The Hunger Games, an allegory for the life of Adolf Hitler, and so on), but an easy-to-adapt book is not one of them. Hollywood became serious about bringing Card's challenging work to the big screen about a decade ago - and next year, it will happen thanks to the efforts of writer-director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, X-Men Origins: Wolverine).
Hood has broken his silence about the difficulties of making Ender's Game, which include recreating the futuristic settings and sci-fi technology detailed in Card's book - some of which now either exists or doesn't seem so far-fetched as when Card wrote about it back in 1985.
Ender's Game takes place 70 years after the second devastating invasion of Earth by a race of insectoid aliens (which accounts for the frequent comparisons between Card's novel and Starship Troopers). Humanity prepares for the inevitable third attack by forming an international military academy, where gifted children prepare for combat. Soon, a potential savior emerges in the form of Andrew 'Ender' Wiggin (Asa Butterfield, Hugo): a brilliant boy who doesn't fully grasp his own capacity for destruction and bloodshed.
Not surprisingly, changes have been made for the movie adaptation - specifically, with regard to the age of the Battle School recruits, who are older and portrayed by more experienced adolescent actors.
Here's what Hood told EW about that deviation from Card's source material:
“I discussed this at length with Orson. The decision was made very early on to compress the time period into about a year, so that we could have the same actor from beginning to end… We were trying to hit that sweet spot right around 12, which Asa fits in very nicely."
Obviously, that decision was in part motivated by practical concerns; that is, adolescent actors tend to be more experienced and easier to work with than child stars. However, if the cast is too old, that weakens the horrifying aspect of Card's original book - namely, kids being (in essence) brain-washed to become killing machines. On that count, Hood appears to have reached a good compromise point by recruiting people who are (and look) quite young still, such as Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit).
Harrison Ford (pictured above, opposite Butterfield as Ender) costars in Ender's Game as Col. Hyrum Graff, Ender's grizzled superior who shrewdly watches over and occasionally interferes (or, rather, does not interfere) with his student's day-to-day living. Hood offered the following, about the dynamic between the two:
“The relationship between [Harrison] and Asa was very close, but he didn’t overly befriend him off the set. He helped Asa by allowing that slight sense of intimidation to be there."
Ender forms a less-volatile relationship with the war hero Mazer Rackham, who is being brought to life by Butterfield's Hugo costar Ben Kingsley; hence, it's reasonable to expect the actors' real-world connection should likewise be reflected in their onscreen interactions. That could also hold true for the other young cast members and adult players, like Viola Davis (The Help) as a psychologist who oversees the emotional welfare of students.
So, overall, the casting for this film seems pretty solid. Moreover, Ender's Game is something that Hood has been working on for some four years - and, unlike with Wolverine, there haven't been any reports of production problems, creative control clashes, etc. That's all to say: the final result of his labor should prove to be more rewarding (artistically, that is) than Hood's notorious X-Men prequel.
Ender's Game opens in U.S. theaters on November 1st, 2013.
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