It appeared to be an annual occurrence. Every year a new production of Orson Scott Card’s seminal sci-fi novel Ender’s Game would be announced, and within a few months it would be abandoned. The story was too internalised, the young cast too difficult to assemble, the special effects too difficult to produce.
But if this summer is remembered for anything, it will surely be the Golden Era of the Book to Film. And so, we have Ender’s Game: The Movie.
Ender’s Game boasts an incredible cast, with Hollywood royalty Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley and Viola Davis joined by young heavyweights Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld, the child stars of Hugo and True Grit.
Having read the book recently, I was a little scared to see how the film would put everything together. The novel is a menagerie of themes and philosophies, musings on childhood, class systems, religion and warfare but to name a few. Finding a place for it all on the screen was always going to be a challenge, trying to give the film its own voice while placating millions of existing fans, skeptical about the film.
Somehow, the film manages to do both with aplomb. While fans of the novel will grimace at the small changes to make the film more palatable to the masses (Ender is 6 years old in the book, 16 years old in the movie), the film carries the same darkness, the same raw feelings that have made the novel one of Sci-Fi’s most celebrated works.
Harrison Ford actually acts in this movie, which is rare these days, while Ben Kingsley plays his mysterious character (Ender’s Game newbies will get a shock) with the sort of intensity we’ve come to expect. Viola Davis is wonderful as, let’s face it, she is in everything.
As for the tween stars, Asa Butterfield could be a little better and Hailee Steinfeld could be a little angrier, as the books demand. But in these criticisms we arrive at the heart of the story. What can we expect of children as they are asked to scale mountains? To save thousands or to make millions? What is talent? Is one born with it or is it installed into them?
The questions Card asked years ago when he first released Ender’s Game are the same questions the film will leave you pondering. And that, in a world of underwhelming adaptations, is a test most productions sadly fail.