Science fiction is a genre in a league of its own when it comes to failed attempts of adapting stories for screen. So when the first ever adaptation attempt of my all time favourite sci-fi novel has gone into post-production, I’m anxious to say the least.
‘Ender’s Game‘ was written by Orson Scott Card and published in 1985. It was actually an adaptation itself, based on a short story he had published in a magazine eight years earlier. The novel received both Hugo and Nebula awards and went on to inspire not just one, but two entire book series, the Ender saga and the Shadow saga.
A short synopsis: Earth is in political distress, and humans are at war with the alien race Formic, commonly known as “the Buggers”. They have already suffered two attacks by the ruthless bug-like race who seem unwilling to communicate or negotiate. Now, through a monitoring process, gifted children are being selected and sent to training at the International Fleet (IF) Battle School in anticipation of the Third invasion. Among these children is five-year old Ender Wiggin, the youngest, smallest and brightest. We follow Ender in his through years of playing strategic war games, in close observation by military officials and in constant fear of ending up like his cold and menacing brother, Peter.
‘Ender’s Game‘ is a story that is exeedingly difficult to successfully adapt to screen. First of all, most of the narrative takes place in Ender’s head, which works well in writing, but not for visual media. Furthermore, Ender is a child, as are most of the characters in the story. And not only are they children, they are exceptionally gifted children. For a screen adaptation this implies two scenarios: a) the film is actually cast mainly by children under the age of ten, a risky move to any investor and likely to end up a messy display of underdeveloped acting skills, especially as the kids in the story are not merely children but children geniuses; or b), Ender’s age is adjusted to an “investment friendly” age. Although far more likely scenario, it is very difficult to imagine how this can be done without compromising the entire premise of the story.
The author of the book has spoken about these issues at length himself, as well as the issue of the story not containing a love interest (a requirement for any Hollywood production), and has previously declined any number of unsatisfying screenplay drafts. This makes me feel slightly more confident that this version should be worthwhile. He’s given the green light and is onboard as co-producer.
Directing the film will be Gavid Hood, who has previously stood behind ‘Tsotsi‘ (2005) and ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine‘ (2009). He has also written the screenplay for this adaptation. In the grown-up acting department, they’ve brought in Ben Kingsley, Viola Davies and Harrison Ford, which gives cause for optimism. For the children there are, quite expectedly, some familiar faces and a lot of unfamiliar ones. Ender will be portrayed by Asa Butterfield (‘Hugo‘), confirming that they have indeed adjusted his age; they’ll be hard pressed to make him out as any younger than 12. I wasn’t over the moon about his last performance, but he’s got some experience and has already worked with Kingsley, and he’s got the right look. Cast as Ender’s sister is Abigail Breslin (‘Little Miss Sunshine‘), by far the most experienced of the young cast.
Rumours will have it that both the challenges of the narrative and of the lack of love interest will be solved by bringing in one of the supporting characters, namely Bean (who became the protagonist of the Shadow saga), and making the adaptation into something of a “bromance”. I can see any number of ways in which this may go wrong and betray the heart of the story, but it does sound like the most practical way of approaching the posed issues, so one can only hope Hood has a firm grasp on his script. Bean will be played by Aramis Knight, who has so far only made insignificant appearances in various TV shows.
As for the visual result, I’m semi-optimistic. Unlike the first 20 years after the release of the book, we now do have the ability to make this story look absolutely stunning. The story takes almost exclusively place on a space fleet, and the war games are done in zero gravity environments. Also, there is an alien species to develop. I can only keep my fingers crossed and hope they’ve got a skilled team onboard to pull it off.
The film is due for cinematic release in a year’s time. I don’t know when we can expect the first trailer, but I will post it as soon as it becomes available.