Ender’s Game, a fantastic book by Orson Scott Card, has been in development hell for eternity (what circle of hell is reserved for bloated Hollywood productions?). At one point even the author himself said the book was essentially unfilmable due to the intricacies of the plot and a story that takes place largely in the protagonist’s (Ender, whom the book is named after) head. It makes for a great read but watching a child think, or worse, throwing in some cheesy, “Wonder Years” style voice overs could ruin the drama and makes going forward on any movie a bit of a challenge. Despite these obstacles, Card has been laboring away on script after script and has finally found one that he, and the studios, are happy with.
And it looks kinda boring.
Don’t get me wrong, I am aware of all the action, dizzying camera work and flashy special effects but I still can’t help but feel like something is missing. In computer animation, there is a well known problem referred to as “Uncanny Valley” where the animation reaches a point of realism that is both extremely realistic but oddly unnatural and the effect is an eerie surrealism that is uncomfortable to watch (think Tom Hanks in The Polar Express). That’s what I feel like when I watch this trailer, everything looks good but the magic isn’t there.
A lot of people have been cautiously optimistic about this film as it made its way through production. Often times they’ll point to the strong cast (Viola Davis, Harrison Ford, Abigail Breslin) as a reason to be hopeful. I think we should think twice.
Ender’s Game is a story with very dark themes. I don’t want to get too specific because reading it and watching those themes slowly unfold and collide with one another is a literary joy and should be pursued by any serious reader, sci-fi or otherwise. I will say this, the story is about children who are forced to grow up too fast and for heartbreaking reasons and Hollywood is not capable of doing it justice.
The main reason I don’t think Ender’s Game will be any better when it arrives in November from what we see in the trailer is that a movie with an all-star cast is an expensive one. An expensive movie means a higher demand from the studio producing it to rake in lots of cash. Nobody wants to be holding the next “John Carter” on their hands. Each time you see Harrison Ford on the screen, just know that paying him to be there means the movie needs to ensure thousands more tickets are sold. This leads to a dilemma because what your filming is a dark movie that could turn off many mainstream movie goers who expect and demand a safer, less introspective movie.
So the irony in all of this is that the thing that most reassures fans waiting for this movie’s release, is what’s killing it. What we will be left with is a hollowed out, unsurprising, spectacle film with cool CGI, cool lines delivered by cool characters, and nothing that means anything at all. It will have been a missed opportunity to explore larger ethical themes (and don’t forget Hunger Games did the exact same thing) and instead will focus exclusively on the action that is meaningless without the deeper context of the story. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m probably not.
If you disagree, by all means, leave a comment below telling me I’m being a cynical jerk and would it kill me to just enjoy something for its own sake for once in my stupid life. I’m a big boy, I’ll only cry a little.