For the film, director and screenwriter Gavin Hood pared down the novel, focusing on the relationship between Ender, who is torn between his propensity toward both compassion and violence, and his military commanders, who are ultimately trying to save humanity from an alien race.
The final product, according to producer Bob Orci, is a story that introduces itself to a new audience while still paying homage to the novel fans love.
“If you’ve never read the book or know anything about ‘Ender’s Game,’ don’t worry about," he said. "The movie can introduce you to it and show you what we love about it and hopefully maybe it will lead you to read the book.”
Bringing the characters to life
Orci and Pritzker said auditions were held across the globe, looking for the right actors and actresses for the roles.
“It’s hard to find — forget young actors — actors who show both the natural empathy and intelligence behind their eyes to portray some complicated situations,” Orci said.
Between hard work, homework and a lot of luck, Orci said, the film secured an all-star cast including Asa Butterfield (Ender), Harrison Ford (Col. Graff), Sir Ben Kingsley (Mazer Rackham), Viola Davis (Major Andersen) and Hailee Steinfeld (Petra), just to name a few.
“There’s no weak link in this cast," Orci said. “We just got so lucky. We’re so proud of the work that our actors did and they all rose to the occasion.
“To have Asa and Ben reunited after 'Hugo'? You don’t get that lucky."
During filming, Card visited the set briefly and said he was impressed with what he saw, particularly the interactions between Ford and Butterfield as Graff and Ender.
"The whole cast really does a very good job," Card said. "And the kids do a good job. Asa's best performance so far is in this film."
For the film version, Ender and his companions are a few years older, but still young enough to remind the audience of the innocence of youth and how that innocence can be lost and manipulated by adults.
“It’s a truism that wars are fought by young people,” Orci said. “One of the things that I think attracted Harrison Ford to it was that truth, the idea that he’s (playing) someone who is trying to save the world by training young protagonists, young leaders, and that’s the history of leadership in a sense.”
Due to the leadership and military themes in the novel, “Ender’s Game” is actually recommended reading for both the lower and officer ranks of the United States Marine Corps.
Human drama takes stage
For many, it's the combination of science fiction action and the deeper themes of war and childhood that has made "Ender's Game" a success.
As she grew older, Baxter said she was compelled by the idea that Ender's talent for empathy could be manipulated into something destructive as well as positive.
"At its heart, this story grapples with heavy concepts: childhood innocence at the whim of adult manipulation, the costs of compassion and the price of survival," Baxter said. "Card was awfully prescient with his sci-fi elements like the Battle Room and the Nets, but without a fundamentally human drama to hang those elements on, this book would have been forgotten long ago."
Both Orci's and Pritzker's experiences reading the novel years before led them to want to work on the film.
Orci read the novel as a teenager and never dreamed he would eventually be part of the team bringing "Ender’s Game" to theaters.
For Pritzker, it was her then-teenaged nephew that brought her to the novel — and eventually the film. Pritzker said that 14 years ago her nephew would rarely read anything, so when he recommended the book, she had to read it.
Eventually, Pritzker said, her nephew challenged her to make it into a movie. A decade later, she acquired the rights.
“I thought the fact that there could be a book that would inspire two people from very different ages and places to have conversations that we did — that’s quite a piece of material," she said.
"Ender's Game" is rated PG-13 for violence, sci-fi action and thematic elements. The film opens in theaters and IMAX on Friday Nov. 1.
Katie Harmer is a journalism graduate of Brigham Young University and writes for Mormon Times. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: harmerk
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