(Entertainment Weekly) Anyone who has read Orson Scott Card’s beloved 1985 sci-fi novel, Ender’s Game, can understand why, for the past 20 years, Hollywood has been unable to adapt the book. After all, it’s challenging enough to shoot a movie about pint-sized military recruits fighting each other in a futuristic, space-set Battle School, but it’s an even taller order to capture the novel’s complex themes about war and morality.
Fortunately for fans of the book, the long wait for a film adaptation is (almost) over. Ender’s Game will hit theaters on Nov. 1, 2013 (Summit Entertainment has just launched the film’s official Facebook page), and EW has your exclusive first look at the movie — as well as the first interview with director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, X-Men Origins: Wolverine).
In the photo above (Here’s a bigger version), we get a first glimpse of Hugo’s Asa Butterfield (right) as Ender, standing in line with other new recruits (a.k.a. “Launchies”) early on at his time in the Battle School. He’s facing off with the imposing Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) over whether his emails to home are being blocked. It’s telling that the two characters are clashing over communication, since they’ve got major communication issues with each other. In the novel, Ender could never be sure whether Graff was manipulating him, or whether he simply saw great potential in him and wanted to foster it.
The actors tried to mirror their characters’ emotions. “The relationship between [Harrison] and Asa was very close,” explains Hood, “but he didn’t overly befriend him off the set. He helped Asa by allowing that slight sense of intimidation to be there.” Getting intimidated by Indiana Jones himself? Sounds like a cinch! What was harder for the cast of childrenwas filming the movie while going to school. “The kids have to attend school for at least three hours of class every day, plus do homework, so you can only shoot with someone like Asa for five hours of your day,” says Hood. “There was no time for fooling about or not knowing your lines or being unprepared.”
To everyone’s delight, Butterfield (along with every child actor) proved himself a true professional. “Asa being prepared meant that we could focus on the scenes, and these are complicated scenes for a young actor,” says Hood.
Bringing to life those “complicated” emotions was made easier by the fact that the recruits in the film are a bit older than the Launchies in the novel, who arrive at the Battle School when they are just six and grow into young adults. “I discussed this at length with Orson,” says Hood. “The decision was made very early on to compress the time period into about a year, so that we could have the same actor from beginning to end… We were trying to hit that sweet spot right around 12, which Asa fits in very nicely.” Hood said the decision was mostly a practical one: “When you sit down for two hours, you’re just beginning to bond with an actor, and then he changes and suddenly you’re bonding with someone who’s meant to be the same person, but you know he’s a different actor.”
Despite that change, Hood wants fans of the novel to know that he holds Ender’s Game, the book, in high esteem. (We already know he maintained the emotion-monitoring chip on the back of Ender’s neck.) “I am a fan,” he says, “and I have had a desire to do this and have been working on this now for nearly four years.” To that end, the director promises that the book’s dark ending (which I won’t spoil here) has remained fully in tact. “That ending — and the complex moral questions that it raises — is one of the reasons why I love the book, ” says Hood. “I promise you that it is very much there.” All together now: Phew!
Are you feeling excited for Ender’s Game? What do you think of the shot? In a post-Hunger Games world, does Ender’s Game — which is sort of a conceptual precursor to Hunger Games — have a shot at box office glory? Sound off the in the comments below!
Photo credit: Lions Gate