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28 years in the making, 'Ender's Game' comes to theaters

Published: Thursday, Oct. 31 2013 3:30 p.m. MDT

From left, Ben Kingsley, Harrison Ford and Asa Butterfield star in "Ender's Game."

Richard Foreman

Christa Baxter grew up listening to tales of science fiction, so it was no surprise that she found “Ender’s Game” as a 13-year-old seventh-grader.

Rumors of an “Ender’s Game” film have haunted the Internet for years, but when Baxter learned the film was moving forward to production, she was "ecstatic."

Baxter, now an English master’s student at BYU, said that as a young middle-schooler, she enjoyed finding a sci-fi book where the protagonists were actually younger than her.

“(Seventh) grade was also the height of my painful middle-school awkwardness,” Baxter said in an email. “So in a shallow way I identified with Ender for being picked on because I was smart. (Of course, not world-saving, child-genius smart. Mostly just a bookworm-with-a-big-vocabulary-and-a-side-of-bad-hair smart).”

Author Orson Scott Card was just 33 when “Ender’s Game” hit bookshelves in 1985 and quickly became a science fiction classic for both young and old.

Set on a futuristic Earth still scarred by an alien invasion, the novel follows child-genius Ender Wiggin, who, along with other children, is drafted by the International Fleet to train and hopefully become the next defenders of Earth.

Through his career, Card has returned to the Ender universe several times in his "Shadow Puppets" series, "Ender in Exile" and other sequels. But while video game and comic book adaptations were made, Card for years held onto the novel's movie rights.

This week, nearly three decades after the novel’s publication, the long-awaited film adaptation of “Ender’s Game” hits theaters.

'Devilishly' hard to adapt

In a 2005 post on his website Hatrack.com, Card wrote, “I jealously protected the movie rights to 'Ender's Game' so that it would not be filmed until it could be done right.”

One of the biggest hurdles was creating a concise screenplay.

“It’s a devilishly hard book to adapt for film,” Card said in a recent interview with the Deseret News.

Card had worked on numerous screenplay adaptations before he sold the rights in 2009. However, each time he would complete a draft, he would run into the same problem.

"The biggest problem we had was that I would write draft after draft and people who already knew and loved the book would say, 'This is it. You nailed it. This is great. This is even better than the last one,'" he said. "And then (I) would hand the script to someone who had never read the book, and they would have no idea what all of it was about."

In short, Card said, it was dependant on already having being invested in the characters. According to Card, part of the problem was that much of the novel occurs in Ender's head as he tries to beat the games his commanders assign to him.

Turning a novel of internal dialogue into a visually engaging film was more challenging than even producer Gigi Pritzker imagined.

“I’m not sure I really understood how difficult it was actually going to be until we started getting into it,” Pritzker said. “It was a real interesting alchemy of what to keep in and how to edit it so you really got what the spirit of the book was. It’s a testament to how well-constructed, frankly, the book is and what a great piece of work it is.”

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