10 Speculative Questions About The Upcoming Ender’s Game Movie

Enders Game Poster 10 Speculative Questions About The Upcoming Ender’s Game Movie

Speculating about movies is kind of stupid. I find it more than just boring and relatively useless, but often it affects expectations so profoundly that the movie in question is no longer able to be taken in on its own terms, but on the terms of its marketing efforts as well as the breadth of anticipatory opinion and hope displayed throughout the internets.

It’s not something I find productive, although I see the appeal of generating momentum in viewers’ hearts and minds toward the release of a project that tons of people have worked really hard on. I do think, though, that the months, sometimes years of buildup to big movie events leads to the “best movie ever!” or “worst movie ever!” reactions that are more prominent and voiceable today. Big movies either live up to insane hype or disappoint high hopes.

Coming up in the next few months are movies like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Thor: The Dark World, big franchises serving up their latest installments. The appeal of franchises is that we more or less know what to expect from each offering, or at least are meant to think that we do. One of this fall’s wild card movies, though, seems to be Ender’s Game. I don’t know what to make of it, to be honest. For every promising aspect I see there’s something else that gives me pause. I try not to think about it, but I can’t help it.

Rather than speculate about what it’s going to be like, which would be unfruitful because (somewhat deliberately) I know so little, here are 10 questions that capture the conflicted feelings I have about Ender’s Game.

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1) What’s with Ben Kingsley’s face tattoo thing?

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It’s probably the biggest, most important question anyone could possibly ask about this movie. It’s certainly the first thing that caught my attention in the otherwise not terribly captivating trailer. The presence of Sir Ben Kingsley is far from a guarantee that a movie will be stellar, but at the very least it’s a signal that maybe it will be slightly more interesting than if someone else was cast in his part (more on that later).

What’s going on with his face though? Apparently he’s playing a character named Mazer Rackham, who, according to the very superficial research I conducted, is half-Māori, the Māori people being (as surely we all know) the indigenous Polynesian population in New Zealand. Tattoos play a significant role in the cultural expression of the Māori people, most notably on the face, which is known as Tā moko.

Given Kingsley’s ambiguous-looking racial identity, his personal hue lends itself to allowing him a certain freedom to take on roles that draw from a variety of cultures, whether it’s Gandhi, or The Mandarin, or this indigenous New Zealander, Rackham. So I’m glad that’s settled.

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2) What’s going on with Harrison Ford these days?

Enders Game Harrison Ford 10 Speculative Questions About The Upcoming Ender’s Game Movie

Harrison Ford, by design no doubt, is a hard guy to figure out. He’s famously unforthcoming in public, maintaining a bit of a shy (almost hostile if we didn’t know better) persona in interviews, and being generally elusive.

The previous decade didn’t offer up a huge serving of Ford, the one big exception being the Indiana Jones movie most people prefer not to talk about. The 90s were a solid period, although his heyday was of course the 70s and 80s, when he had two franchises and two monumental characters in Han Solo and Indiana Jones to ride for almost a decade and a half, not to mention Blade Runner and Witness. Then we saw him in The Fugitive, and Sabrina, but really since Air Force One it almost seemed like one of Hollywood’s biggest stars had begun to fade out.

Then came Cowboys & Aliens, serving as something of a comeback, and now in 2013, he’s had a bold turn in 42, was apparently in a movie with Liam Hemsworth that I’m 90% confident nobody who’s reading this watched, and now Ender’s Game. These are high profile roles for someone who seemed to be taking his leave. Was the material too good to pass up? Is he the perfect person for the part? Why does Harrison Ford seem to be everywhere these days, including the upcoming Anchorman sequel and the next Expendables movie? Alas, these are just a few of life’s unsolvable mysteries.

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3) The novel’s good though, right?

Is this an alien planet or Earth 10 Speculative Questions About The Upcoming Ender’s Game Movie

Yeah, so I haven’t read the book, if it isn’t obvious by now. I understand it is an award winning teen sci-fi novel that author Orson Scott Card turned into a book series. It seems to contain the type of futuristic galactic combat component that can be made into pretty dazzling cinematic fare. I have been assured by multiple colleagues, the type of folks who “knew” Game of Thrones was going to be a massive success, that Ender’s Game is the next “sure thing” for genre adaptations.

Again, this is almost a double-edged sword. If it’s already being compared to one of the most daring television fantasy adaptations ever made, that’s a lot to live up to. On top of that, adapting a novel this heralded for a movie can be a nearly impossible task. Any false steps become magnified. It takes people with a combination of deep passion and extensive knowledge of the source material to turn magic on the page into magic on the screen.

One assurance we have, though, seems to be that this source material is fairly solid—that is, more along the lines of your Harry Potter or Hunger Games than, to pick another comparable franchise completely at random, The Twilight Saga.

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4) What’s with the name ‘Ender,’ seriously?

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I quibble. I’ve limited the amount I’ve learned about the character of Andrew “Ender” Wiggin to know that Ender is placed in quotation marks between his surname and forename, indicating perhaps a nickname or adopted name as a result of exploits during some period of his young life.

Is it because he ends people?? I don’t care. It makes for a snappy title, which is almost a touch offputting, in the same way the Britney Spears song “Lucky” is undercut by the insistence that it’s about some character whose name is Lucky.

But tackiness aside, let’s hope that people aren’t sick of games just yet, whether they’re about hunger or enders or thrones or weird conspiracies surrounding Michael Douglas.

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5) Does it matter that Orson Scott Card is homophobic?

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Probably not, right? But I don’t know. One would like to think that for someone to lack the sense to see that same-sex marriage is every bit as beautiful and touching as any other marriage, they’d also lack the smarts to write really good fiction. That doesn’t seem to be the case here and thus many paradigmatic heads have exploded as a result.

There have been protests and boycotts (did you know Orson Scott Card is an anagram for Boycott This Person Hard?) which I get; you don’t want someone to be celebrated absolutely without pointing out that they have some really problematic views, even if they might be softening on them. Call the guy a douche for making the tired comparison of President Obama to Hitler, by all means. I just think it takes a closer examination of the work in question, Ender’s Game in this case, to advocate boycotting a movie just because the person making it happens to have kooky ideas or belong to a religion you don’t like.

Because you guys: Tom Cruise. See my point? Great, moving on.

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6) Can the child actors make it work?

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Having a cast that’s so dependent on the performances of young actors seems as risky as filming at sea. Alfred Hitchcock compared directing actors to herding cattle, and while this may be fair in many cases, for most adult, professional performers, this is more than a little patronizing. Most filmmakers who treat their actors as collaborators on a common project seem to enjoy much greater success.

Child and teenage actors are tough because there’s far less of a chance they can be seen as equal collaborators. And very often, the test of a talented director is how well they harness the qualities of child performers and make them work in the finished film. We’ve seen too many examples where young characters are nearly unbearable.

All that being said, casting is important, and the young folks cast in this film are among the most accomplished for their age. Asa Butterfield honed his skills in some terrific smaller movies before landing the lead in the Scorsese hit Hugo. Abigail Breslin and Hailee Steinfeld are both Oscar nominees, for Little Miss Sunshine and True Grit, respectively. Breslin, in particular, is still in her teens but a basically an industry veteran, first gaining attention back in 2002 in Signs. These guys have turned in enough solid work to merit some confidence heading into Ender’s Game.

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7) Can Viola Davis’ presence make up for everything else?

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Viola Davis can singlehandedly take a movie like The Help and turn it from something that could easily have been nothing but caricature and emotional exploitation into something that, at least at times, had some real feeling to it. Then again, her electric presence can only do so much—Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close remained a dud even though she did her best to bring it to life. So if we imagine this circumstance where Ender’s Game falls a little bit flat, it’s not an absolute guarantee that Viola Davis, alone, can salvage it.

Viola Davis is not a beginner. Viola Davis is acting. Viola Davis is truth. She has attained that rare level of acting where her appearance in a movie is instantly attention-grabbing and makes me sit up in my seat and start watching closely. It’s taken some time for audiences to catch on, but starting with her incredible performance in Doubt in 2008 and then The Help three years later, you can’t not notice her anymore. She finds a way of making every moment she’s on screen fascinating and special. If and when Harvey Weinstein releases The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby we’ll get to see her turn in some of her best work again, but until then, hopefully she gets some room to maneuver here.

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8) Is director Gavin Hood up to the task?

Gavin Hood and Asa Butterfield 10 Speculative Questions About The Upcoming Ender’s Game Movie

His résumé is relatively brief, but there’s some impressive work on it. His most famous effort has to be the 2005 film Tsotsi, a story of a South African teenager who tries to find redemption and escape from a life of crime. It’s encouraging that this movie, which won the Oscar for Foreign Film that year, was also focused on a young protagonist, apparently an area in which Hood has interest, experience and success.

That was almost a decade ago, and in the years since he directed the topical and confoundingly underrated 2007 film Rendition, which featured an all-star cast and was based on a true story, indeed probably dozens of true stories. This was still a movie with a fairly sharp focus. Then, Hood went big in 2009 when he directed X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a much more poorly received picture, although again, I found it a little puzzling that it drew so much ire from critics.

It’s Tsotsi and Wolverine that seem most relevant in trying to speculate whether Hood was the right person to lead the Ender’s Game project, given their combination of subject and scope, although his evident passion in taking control over the script to the point of getting sole credit as screenwriter at the very least speaks to his level of passion for this story. For me at least, he’s done enough to earn my trust.

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9) Could it have been worse?

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I think this one is an unequivocal yes. This project has been in development for a while; the novel was published in 1985, and Card began developing the movie in the mid-90s. Things began to move more in 1999, but it’s probably a good thing that they didn’t, because one of the hot new actors being considered to play the lead role of Ender was Jake Lloyd. You know Jake Lloyd—he was young Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace. That’s an example of a young actor who just did not meld well with the director, and the result speaks for itself. Maybe it’s fair to blame George Lucas for that performance too, but I think there’s near unanimity around the opinion that Asa Butterfield makes a better fit.

Other actors that could have been in major roles instead of the promising cast we have now? One suggestion from the late 90s was that in the part now inhabited by Academy Award winner Sir Ben Kingsley, Mazer Rackham, we could have seen Will Smith. So just a teeny half-foot difference in size and much more significant different in talent there.

Also that Harrison Ford part? When you’re watching him rekindle your Han Solo fantasies during Ender’s Game, I urge you to take just a moment and imagine that instead of Harrison Ford’s dreamy blue eyes, you’re seeing Rosie O’Donnell. Card was apparently thinking of O’Donnell or Janeane Garofalo or some dry female comic in the part of a female Colonel Graff. I’m sure they would have somehow made it work, but surely the version we’ve ended up with is vastly superior to alternate universe Ender’s Game starring the kid from the Star Wars prequels.

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10) Is thinking about it too much ultimately worthless?

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My perspective on anticipatory speculation is that it generates a certain kind of energy for filmgoing, and that’s probably mostly good, but can have some detrimental qualities. I like to think about what my favorite directors and stars are working on next as much as anyone, but find it important to remind myself not to get attached to rumors or early opinions or wild, unserious lists of speculative nonsense about upcoming movies. Keep it funny, in other words.

There are some who say that there is far more attention paid to what’s coming in the world of TV and movies than there is to the actual products. Teasers of teaser trailers get nearly as much online attention as the actual releases of the movies they’re meant to be promoting. It’s easy to fall victim to a hype machine that’s built solely around advertising and products that are ephemeral and instantly forgettable in favor of the Next Big Thing.

I fear the misplaced value in these things myself, though not to the point of panic. There remains something magical about the communal experience of seeing a heavily pushed movie on its opening weekend with a buzzing crowd. That doesn’t happen without work by some savvy or at least well-funded promoters. And it’s often a result of people getting to use their eyes to see something they had been envisioning in their head for sometimes a significant period of their lives.

The best approach, by my estimation, is to maintain a level head through the hype stage and try really hard to root for the success of a project like this. I’m certainly rooting for Ender’s Game, because if it’s good enough, we all win.

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  • http://film-book.com/ Rollo Tomasi

    Its a good book. Not great. Dune is great.

    Ender gets nickname from his sister.

    The actors ages are upped. Ender is 6-11 when he does the magnificent things he does.

    Is director Gavin Hood up to the task? After Origins Wolverine my confidence is low.


    There are other questions you should be asking as well.

    1. Will certain deaths be in the film?
    2. The trial?
    3. The true game and manipulation?
    4. The cocoon?
    5. The Giant’s Drink?

    6. Three key fight scenes.
    7. Will Peter Wiggins be present?

    With a PG-13 rating, much will be censored and cut out. Its a shame.