MANILA, Philippines - “Unfilmable.” Orson Scott Card once regarded his award-winning novel Ender’s Game that way, but thanks to the ingenuity of director Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), the movie adaptation has become a reality. The public’s immense interest in the film was proven when it ranked No. 1 in the US box-office on its opening day on Nov. 1.
Ender’s Game stars a new generation of great actors, Asa Butterfield (Hugo), Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) and Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), with the iconic Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley and Viola Davis.
Centering on a gifted boy named Ender Wiggin (Butterfield), Ender’s Game is set in a futuristic Earth, which suffered greatly from the attack of hostile alien species called Formics. The heroic deed of Mazer Rackham (Kingsley) saved mankind from totally falling apart, but the Formics are making a comeback. In preparation for the next invasion, Ender is among the brilliant young minds recruited to train at the Battle School in outer space run by Col. Hyrum Graff (Ford), who conditions him to become a certain kind of leader. Ender vows to do everything he can to save the human race.
Producer Roberto Orci (Mission Impossible 3, Transformers, Star Trek) calls the movie “a grand space adventure” which today’s sophisticated audience would love, yet Hood, who also wrote the screenplay, assures that they did not go “excessively sci-fi” on it because they “did not want to pull the audience’s attention to a (visual) gimmick that may no longer be hip in the coming years.” Instead, they “focused on the technology needed to support the character journey.”
That character journey — Ender’s battles with authority figures he does not trust and his development as a leader — was what attracted Hood to doing the film. At a young age of 17, he was also drafted in the military. Upon reading the book, he was amazed that it really got “the feeling of what it’s like to be taken from your home and forced into a (violent) environment.” In this war setting where young people need to find their moral sense, Hood found a story worth telling in the big screen.
Ford signed on to play Graff for the same reason. He says, “The ability to wage war removed from the battlefield is one of the realities of our life now... the issue of the manipulation of young people for their value as soldiers because of their motor skill capacities and their conceptual freedom is something that was really complex and interesting to me. I was delighted to be involved in playing (this)character.”
Those who have read the book would know that a large part of the story is Ender’s internal monologue. That was the biggest challenge Hood faced in composing the script, but he addressed it by translating some of the inner thought into action or character decisions. And of course, they made sure to get incredible young actors who can convey so much with their faces and body language. The children in the book are younger than they are portrayed in the movie, but the decision to make them a few years older made it easier to get more competent actors.
Butterfield, who has earned acclaims for his performances in Hugo and The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, says that “it was pretty big” to be embodying an iconic character such as Ender, but he had a lot of fun bringing out Ender’s “dark moments,” with the help of his director. He particularly enjoyed “flying in zero gravity, shooting laser guns,” but stressed that he values greatly the morals and themes in the movie, like leadership, compassion and empathy.
Steinfeld, who plays Petra Arkanian, an older student in Battle School and a faithful friend to Ender, says about the production design and the sets, “As futuristic as they are, they’re very practical, and we were able to feel as though we were in that world and we felt very grounded... then when we go off into zero gravity, that’s sort of a world that we can use our imagination.”
Hood shares in his blog that the young actors were trained under the guidance of real NASA astronauts. Aside from going to a space camp in Alabama, they also underwent a form of boot camp where they were taught things like marching properly in unison. “And when they screwed up, they were ordered to do push ups!”
The Oscar-nominated actress Breslin, who plays Valentine, the empathetic older sister of Ender, calls it “a huge responsibility to be part of something that has a huge following,” but she’s very excited for everyone to see the movie.
Director Hood is confident that Ender’s Game is a kind of movie that will inspire discussion between parents and children after they have watched it.
Ender’s Game opens in Philippine cinemas on Dec. 4, from Viva International Pictures.