Ender’s Game – Too hot for the silver screen? Or just too late?
Mormonism, child soldiers and 'Buggers'
Since it was published in its first incarnation as a short story in Analog magazine in 1977, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game has developed into one Sci-Fi’s best-known series of novels, but it has also become one of the genre’s most controversial. Part of this is down to the author’s controversial views: a dedicated Mormon with some typically right-wing opinions on homosexuality, Card has been causing controversy with his writings on the subject since the 1990 publication of one his essays in Sunstone magazine, in which he describes the assertion that homosexuality is determined genetically and not by decision, as ‘laughably irrelevant’.
However, the author’s views are not the only source of controversy surrounding Ender’s Game: much of it is about the subject matter of the books themselves.
Published as a novel in 1985, Ender’s Game is set on a future Earth where mankind has mastered interplanetary travel and is ruled by three fractious political parties. However, despite their difference the parties unite and form the International Fleet, a united defence force designed to defend against an invading alien race known as ‘The Buggers’ (referred to in later books, as well as the film, as ‘The Formics’). The IF creates an institution called Battle School, aimed at training children with the best tactical minds. Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggin, the book’s main protagonist, is one such child, considered a tactical wunderkind. He is subjected to a ‘simulation’ in which he ruthlessly sacrifices many of his own fighters in order to destroy the entire Alien fleet, only to discover that the simulation is actually real and that he has effectively ended the war.
It is this aspect of the book that has caused almost as much controversy, with critics asserting that the book glamourises the idea of child soldiers and that the book subjects its young protagonists to excessive violence. The book is even used as a kind of training manual by the military in some countries, including the U.S., where the book is required reading for marines.
Lost in Gestation?
The film was a long time in production, going through several would-be directors and with Card repeatedly getting into disagreements with film studios over its production, but eventually Gavin Hood’s screen adaptation hit the cinemas last year, with the DVD and Blu-Ray editions released in the UK next week. Starring Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley, Hood’s film sticks pretty closely to the book and is an admirable adaptation of the book, but it suffers for a couple of reasons.
The first of these is the aforementioned controversy over the authors views, leading to a boycott of the film coordinated by LGBT rights group Geeks Out which contributed to a lukewarm reception at the box office. The bigger problem though is the question of whether or not the subject matter is still as relevant as it was when the book was written in 1985. With the Cold War still very much a reality at the time, the idea of children being groomed to create ‘super-soldiers’ in this day and age seems like an outdated one, problematic for a genre whose usual MO is predicated on cautionary tales of a future that is predicted based on our current course of action.
The fact is that the boycott didn’t affect the author either way – Card’s fee was already banked and he’s not on a percentage deal, so regardless of how the film performed at the box office or how many copies it shifts in the home cinema market, the end result is the same in this respect. It isn’t the first film to suffer from a protracted production process either; Zack Snyder’s The Watchmen is another example, one whose controversy still hasn’t been put to bed, with Snyder openly criticising Terry Gilliam’s proposed version in the press this week.
That said, although aspects of Ender’s Game’s narrative will be too controversial for some, die-hard Sci-Fi fans will be pleased at the film’s faithfulness to the original concept. The performances are great too, particularly from the young Butterfield, who looks destined for a long and successful career. If Science Fiction is your thing, or if you’re a fan of the books regardless, this is a film you will want to see. If nothing else, it’s a talking point.
Ender's Game is available on Blu-Ray & DVD in hmv stores from March 10th