The Battle (Screening) Room: Will Ender's Game Succeed as a Movie?

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The anticipated big screen adaptation of Orson Scott Card's award-winning science-fiction novel is on the horizon. Does it have the potential to live up to the hype? November 2013 will see the release of one of the more eagerly-anticipated science fiction pictures in years - the star-studded adaptation of Orson Scott Card's classic Ender's Game. The movie will follow the adventures of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a child prodigy trained to battle a mysterious alien race set to invade Earth, shepherded on by military men Graff (Harrison Ford) and Rackham (Ben Kingsley), and assisted by his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) and friend Petra (Hailee Steinfeld). Like all sci-fi movies, it's a risk; the movie could become a Star Wars or Avatar-level hit, or be a bomb on the level of After Earth. The movie's got plenty going for it - but it also has some red flags, too. So, let's break down the three reasons Ender's Game might succeed, and the three reasons it might not.

Why Ender's Game Could Be a Hit

  • THE SOURCE NOVEL - This isn't some lightly-regarded YA fiction like the Twilight series, or a hard-edged sci-fi satire for narrower audiences like Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers (for which the film adaptation, it must be told, hardly resembled the book at all). Card's Ender's Game is a deep and rich book, touching on dozens of different fascinating themes - militarism, fear, family and morality, just to name a few - and it's also one that is easily accessible for children and adults alike. It's got a built-in fan-base that has grown up with the book since its publication, as well as loads of support and praise from educators and critics. It's not your typical sci-fi book - it's got the same pedigree that classics-turned-movies like Blade Runner and Total Recall had. That's promising.
  • THE YOUNG ACTORS - Unlike After Earth - which the public sniffed out as a vanity project for the Smith family (with appropriately scathing reviews for Jaden Smith) - there's some serious talent for the young 'uns in front of the camera. It's a tricky thing to put young actors at the head of such a huge production, but Hood has three very good ones for the movie's three big roles. Asa Butterfield managed to impress Martin Scorsese enough to land the titular role in Hugo; if he can carry that, Ender Wiggin is well within his wheelhouse. Young actress Hailee Steinfeld gave one of the best performances of the last decade as the lead in the Coens' remarkable True Grit remake. She's an up-and-coming superstar, and she should do well as Ender's fiery classmate Petra Arkanian. Finally, there's Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin in the key role of Ender's fellow prodigal sister, Valentine. These are accomplished, seriously talented young actors thaty will tackle these roles, and they should all do so admirably.
  • THE SUPPORTING CAST - The producers and Hood have done a very smart thing; they've stocked the rest of the novel's meaty roles with great actors. Harrison Ford is ideally cast as Ender's controversial mentor, Hyrum Graff; Ford + sci-fi generally equals all-time blockbusters (the Star Wars series) or classics (Blade Runner). Academy Award-winner Ben Kingsley steals the trailer as the face-tatted Maori battle legend Mazer Rackham; Kingsley is coming off a wickedly funny supporting turn in Iron Man 3, and is carving out a nice second-half of his career in blockbusters (let's not forget his incredible acting talent, too, as seen in Sexy Beast). Finally, there's the great Viola Davis, who was sadly denied an Oscar for her roles in Doubt and The Help, as Graff's foil, Anderson. That's a lot of talent to prop up the back end of the movie - Ford alone is enough to draw his own audience in.

Why it Might Not

  • THE ORSON SCOTT CARD CONTROVERSY - Card has been vocal in his opposition of gay marriage, as seen in this 2004 essay. His controversial views have already created a firestorm for DC Comics, who hired him to help pen a new Superman series. In an era when gay marriage is still a very hot-button issue, there's a chance that pro gay marriage support groups might try to organize a movement against the film. It might do some serious publicity damage.
  • THE GAVIN HOOD PROBLEM - The South African writer-director got noticed with the acclaimed, Academy Award Winning Tsotsi in 2005, but really hasn't impressed since. Rendition was a miss of a thriller, and Wolverine was one of the worst superhero movies ever made. You have to wonder if he can be trusted to shepherd this story to the big screen; after all, we saw what kind of scorn was heaped upon M. Night Shyamalan for After Earth.
  • THE BIG-BUDGET FATIGUE - Ender's Game runs the very real risk of running into audience ambivalence. By the time November rolls around, audiences will have already seen big-budget tentpoles like Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, Pacific Rim and G.I. Joe. That's a lot of spectacle to spend bucks on. Audiences could just be worn out by grand destruction, and turn to one of the smaller, Oscar-bait movies coming out in November instead.

Michael N
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