Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ender's Day

The Next Greatest Day

In the past decade, I've had a lot of lifelong dreams realized in a big way. The Lord of the Rings was realized in a hugely successful film trilogy. I got some seat time in a Tesla Pod. Captain America and the Avengers came to the screen in pure cinematic bliss. There's this little game called Star Citizen coming out that you'll hear (a lot) more about in the future. And while I'm sure there are several other unrealized things left on my nerd bucket list, the only one I can think of now is going to be checked off soon, too. Ender's Game is finally coming to the big screen. And today they are releasing the first trailer for it via a Google+ hangout and then adding it to Youtube.

For those of you haven't heard of Ender's Game, it's a psychological action-drama in a near-future science fiction setting, written by Orson Scott Card. Its title character is Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, who at the age of five is sent to Battle School--an orbital military academy for child prodigies training to become the next crop of commanders to lead humanity in an imminent war with an alien race. The Battle School is full of bright-but-aggressive kids trained to have analytical and violent minds, and so a good portion of the book's drama revolves around how the students increase the stakes to their war games in their efforts to eliminate rivals.

Ender's Game is a great, introspective space epic, even though the actual physical space of the book occurs in claustrophobic, personal corridors and rooms. The descriptions of the Battle School's war games is well thought-out and described in gratifying detail, making a series of training exercises a tense part of the book's action as the school's administrators increase the academic and bureaucratic stakes of the games and the students increase the immediate peril itself. Friendships and concepts of personal identity are paramount in this book, though, as Ender is driven to the brink of severe depression and sociopathy by the trials he has to face, only to be dragged back by the wonderfully defined supporting characters. And Ender's older siblings, Valentine and Peter, develop into king-making politicos in a sort of vengeance against a society that passed them over for assignment to the Battle School. It's dense and yet full of visceral moments that keep the book moving along. And the ending is depressing, raw, and cathartic like a full-body scouring with a pumice stone.

When I was twelve years old and first read Ender's Game, I was immediately affected by it. I moved on immediately to the sequel trilogy, which was much more metaphysical melodrama than psychological military action-drama, but I still devoured the rest of the series. I moved on to a thematically parallel series known as The Seafort Saga, which is one of my favorite book series ever and is terribly difficult to find since the author's passing. But Ender's Game remained fondly fixed in my heart--when Starcraft first came out my Battle.net sign-on was Ender, and later I moved on to Homeworld 2 and became Mazer Rackham, Ender's predecessor from the book. When I first met my future wife, I was singing the book's praises to her in our second or third conversation. Heck, I even helped my junior high science teacher--who had originally recommended the book to me--write a screenplay based on the book.

"...the ending is depressing, raw, and cathartic like a full-body scouring with a pumice stone."

Which was itself in response to the first rumors of a live action movie adaptation of Ender's Game. Way back in 1999. Since then, the movie has been in production limbo that should be painfully familiar to former Duke Nukem fans, but at one high point Wolfgang Petersen was slated to direct Ender's Game. And then came delays, and I grew tired of farming rumors as Petersen fell out of the project's future. But now we're looking at a vividly realized film, set to come out November 1 of this year, and I'm hearing that same old music. Directed by Gavin Hood (whatthefrak?! Mr. X-Men Origins: Wolverine? Please no), with a James Horner soundtrack (hell yeah!), and the author Orson Scott Card co-writing the screenplay. Oh, there's so much mixed feelings going on in that one sentence, but if Gavin Hood can forgo the dumbing down of characters and conflicts we saw in Origins, then perhaps this movie might not only be a fantastic adaptation of one of my favorite novels, but the best full-fledged sci-fi epic we've had in years.

And on the subject of casting: Harrison Ford is going to be playing the Battle School's commandant, Colonel Graff, lending the film full of young unknowns some much-needed star power. And aiding Harrison Ford's character in the role of Colonel Graff's assistant? Han Soto. Damn straight. Not to knock Mr. Soto as an actor, but I guarantee you at some point the casting director just threw his hands up in the air "oh co'mon! It's Han Soto and Han Solo! We gotta hire this guy..." I'm also sure that after a week of constant Solo/Soto jokes on set, the whole thing got old real fast.

Ben Kingsley is playing Mazer Rackham, guaranteeing that between this role and playing the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, he is the nerd-daddy of 2013. The young stars making up the principal characters look promising, though casting actors so young and then throwing an entire plot behind their believability as military savants is a novel problem that Ender's Game faces. Whatever the case, Ender's Game promises to be big enough to get a whole new generation of readers picking up a great piece of genuinely thought-provoking science-fiction.

In the end, though, there are some things I absolutely require from this movie. And some of them involve minor spoilers to the book. If you're sensitive to spoilers I suggest you stop here, but at the same time Ender's Game is still a fantastic read and re-read even when you know all of the major plot-points. But I'm warning you anyways.

"oh co'mon! It's Han Soto and Han Solo! We gotta hire this guy..."

Still here? Good.

1. The Third Formic Invasion must be a lie. This is a big one, and it's one that the writers could easily be tempted to change. For most of the book, the characters all believe that the Formics--advanced insectoid aliens who nearly wiped out humanity twice--are on their way to Earth for round three of the Bugger Wars. In fact, it turns out that they've been preparing for Earth's counterattack. Ships in Ender's Game are slower than the speed of light, and so trips to nearby stars are a matter of years. So while the government has been proclaiming that the Third Formic Invasion is on its way to them, they're actually trying to prepare their potential commanders for the day they will have to remotely lead far-flung fleets in assault over alien worlds. This deception is key to the central trauma of Ender's life, and if they opt to glitz up the storyline by making the Third Invasion legit, the entire theme gets muddled and lost.

2. The kids must be kids. This is a tender requirement, because Ender's Game features kids from the ages of 5 to 12 committing some pretty brutal acts, and that generally only gets represented in shock dramas and horror movies, and Ender's Game will not be either of those. The cast is a little older than their book counterparts--in the book, they ranged from 6 to 14 years old throughout in the lionshare of the plot, and the movie's youngest principal is 14 years of age--but this goes back to storytelling more than casting anyways. The actors need to walk the razor's edge of portraying children who are fragile and prone to youthful excesses and assumptions, but still capable of acutely violent and tactical action.

3. Peter needs to be twisted. Peter Wiggin, Ender's older brother and a frightening childhood sadist, needs to be fully realized in his disturbed state to sell Ender early on as a frightened boy. Ender's Game and its parallel novel Ender's Shadow both revolve around making its protagonists spiritually stripped and abused in order to help shine a light on their own survival-based dependence on violence. For Ender, that motivating force is Peter, and he needs to be sick to be effective. Now, the flip side is that Peter grows up into a mature man who seems to have overcome his demons even as he assumes greater and greater political power. Because Peter, as twisted as he starts, is never supposed to stray outside the extremes of a child who can't get the love he needs.

So those are my first thoughts on Ender's Game. Be sure to watch the trailer, airing on Google+ and Youtube shortly.

UPDATE 5/7/2013, 3:53PM CST:
And now here you go. The trailer in all its teasing spectacle.

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