Ender’s Game is released in two weeks. And we’ve been seeing trailers since May (below). There’s something missing from them, and it’s a pretty big deal: The film’s main character Ender Wiggin (played by Asa Butterfield). Oh he’s there all right, brooding and waving his arms a lot. But somebody who is completely unfamiliar with Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel would be forgiven for thinking that Harrison Ford was the star.
When the first trailer was released many moons ago, stuffed with Ford’s growling narration about space invaders and this amazing young potential leader, I thought: Oh, they’re using the iconic Star Wars actor and a lot of special effects to sell this sci-fi film at this early stage instead of focusing on Ender’s story, I suppose that makes sense.
But now that the film opens Nov. 1., and we’ve mainly seen adult characters like Ford’s battle school Colonel Graff and Ben Kingsley’s Mazer Rackham talking about Ender rather than Ender’s perspective, it’s a little worrisome. The movie is about Ender Wiggin. It’s his journey through Battle School training to fight alien invaders. The film is called Ender’s Game.
Yet from Ender we have heard four beats of dialogue: “So I’m not the first?” …”Track them from below the ice. Shoot straight. Stay calm. Here we go. FIRE!” … “I’ll do everything I can to win this war” … And: “In 3, 2, 1, NOW!”
And that’s IT in the trailers (there is more Ender in online clips, if fans seek them out). Nothing else about Ender’s journey, and nothing about the other kids in Battle School. There is a whole supporting cast of key young characters in this film who largely haven’t been promoted at all, such as comrade Petra – in the photo above played by Hailee Stenfeld – his loving sister Valentine, and his bullying brother Peter, and the villainous Bonzo. In the trailers, Ender’s only apparent adversary is arm fatigue.
Let me put all this another way: Imagine The Hunger Games was opening in two weeks and the trailers were mostly President Snow and Haymitch talking about Katniss Everdeen. And from Katniss, we’ve seen nothing but shots of her looking intense and running around the forest and saying little bits of dialog like “Oh my hunger!” “Look out Rue!” and “Neither of these boys are optimal!” or whatever.
Or this example might be more apt: What if all trailers for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone focused on Dumbledore pacing around his office and mumbling to Hagrid about Harry being The Boy Who Lived. Sure, we would have likely seen more Dumbledore if Ford had played him. But no Hermione, Ron or Malfoy?
That would be bizarre right? You would be like: Wait, isn’t this the story of Katniss/Harry?
For decades, Hollywood’s fear of making Ender’s Game was that the protagonist and his co-stars were too young in the novel. Card long refused any adaptation that would turn Ender into an older teenager. In the film, Ender is supposed to be 12; he starts Battle School training at age 6 in the book. So either Butterfield is spectacularly bad as the title character – and in the clip EW posted an actual scene with the actor, he looks just fine – or Lionsgate is hesitating to embrace his story, instead focusing its marketing entirely on the Fretting Adults subplot due to Ford’s star power. Which in the wake of the success of Harry Potter and Hunger Games, is really odd. A kid is forced to grow up quickly when thrust into a dangerous high-stakes grown-up battle amid other young rivals? Yeah, we actually really like those stories, we can handle that.
Here’s a challenge to Lionsgate: Make a wide-release Ender’s Game trailer with no adults. It’s a story about kids, after all.