Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Endgame of Ender's Game

While skulking around Aint It Cool I came across this interesting Message Board Thread dedicated to why Wolfgang Peterson should not direct the film adaptation of the science fiction classic Ender's Game.

For those of you who may not be familiar, Ender's Game is a science fiction novel written by Orson Scott Card. It was published in 1985, and was based off a popular short story on the same concept that Card had written previously. To try and describe the plot of Ender's Game is difficult - it is the sort of book that just needs to be read in order to fully appreciate its wonder. It was handed down to me by a fellow sci-fi geek, and when I looked skeptically at the cheesy looking cover with 80's esque renditions of space ships, he said to me "Just read it." So I did, and I absolutely loved it. So for those of you who have not read it, I will simply say to you also: "Just read it." But just to give you an idea about the story, it takes place in the future and involves the story of a group of maverick children who are in an intensive training program to save the world from evil bug-like aliens. I know, you're thinking it sounds ridiculous, but I'll say to you again:

"Just read it."

For years this book has been floating around the studio system, stuck in "development hell". I believe rights to the book were purchased shortly after the books publication in the late 80's, and nothing of significance has come of it in the past seventeen or so years. There have been rewrites of the script galore, attempts to reconceptualize the story, and various talent attached who have come and gone.

I have heard through the grapevine, that Wolfgang Peterson had been interested in the project in the early 90's, but then the project entered the stage known as "dead development" - meaning, there was no movement on the project and the studio had just shelfed it indefinitely.

Now all the buzz is that Wolfgang Peterson is back on as director, apparently Orson Scott Card just completed another draft of the script, and the movie train has started moving again.

The Message Board Thread is apparently some offshoot forum of Orson Scott Cards official web page, and Card actually participates in the talk back. I have to say, the fans have not been going easy on him, and there is a large amount of dismay about the fact that Peterson is going to direct.

Here's an exert of one of Card's responses:

The attitudes toward Wolfgang Petersen and toward Troy expressed here are kind of strange. Wolfgang is one of the most respected directors in the industry - both by money people (his films make money) and by artistic types (his films are brilliantly conceived).

No one here has actually given a coherent reason why ANYTHING is wrong with Troy. It was a powerful evocation of another era. My wife and I saw it twice in the first few days - it was powerful, entrancing. The writer, director, and actors achieved the sense of a heroic, semi-civilized era and captured the tone and feel of the world of the Iliad (while leaving out the gods).

Meanwhile, you also don't understand how Hollywood works. Writers don't "pick" directors. The only power I had was to veto the ones who would have been horrible. Beyond that, we looked for directors who found the project interesting, who were on the short list of those capable of directing it AND of getting a studio to back the project with that director attached. What some folks don't seem to grasp is that the ONLY reason Warner Brothers picked up the Ender's Game movie project was that Wolfgang was attached. If Wolfgang were not the director, THERE WOULD BE NO PROJECT. We'd still be going begging to the studio doors. Wolfgang, not I, is driving the project. That's how Hollywood works, when it works at all.

The very fact that the alternative proposed was a director like the one who did "Close Encounters" shows amazing insensitivity to what would make Ender's Game work. Take a look at Hook, for instance, or the false and dishonest over-the-top ending of Schindler's List ... you want a director who can't bear a tough ending? A director who has no understanding of character? I'd rather NOT see Ender's Game be nothing but a special effect-driven extravaganza, thanks ...

I do appreciate the fact that Card is upset for being blamed about Peterson's selection, for in fact, he had nothing to do with it. However, I have to take issue with a couple things. First off, I KNOW he did not just diss on my boy Spielberg. OH NO HE DI - ENT! Ender's Game is a terrific story, but I feel certain Scott would be lucky if the feature film version ended up being HALF the movie Close Encounters is. AND I don't care what anyone says, but I love Hook - yes it strays into "oversentimentality", and is one of Speilberg's goofier efforts, but that is the point of the movie.

{Rufio! Rufio! Rufiooooooooooooooh}

Also, Mr. Card, if we're going to talk about false, dishonest, and over-the-top portrayals of historic events, wouldn't TROY be a better place to start? Now I didn't hate Troy the way that many others did, I thought it was pretty average, with some boring scenes, some neat ones, the overall effect being that I left the theatre feeling fairly indifferent. Granted, I was just judging the film in the context of a blockbuster summer movie. Now if I were to look at it as an accurate and just interpretation of the Trojan War, I would say it failed to capture any of the magic of Homer's Illiad, and bungled every opportunity to make a mythic and historically resonant film.

I'm going to ignore the comment about "no understanding of character" because it is truly so preposterous that it doesn't even deserve a response. However, I would like to point out to Mr. Card that his preferred director, Peterson, recently directed a film who's entire plot built up to one big special effect at the end - a big wave.

I understand that Mr. Card feels the need to stand behind his film. Obviously no good is going to come of his bashing the director who has been chosen to direct his film, and is finally moving things along. However, was the rant on Steven really necessary? I think not.

My own opinion on Wolfgang Peterson is fairly mixed. He was around in Germany long before he started doing American films, and I haven't seen much of his earlier work, including Das Boot. I do love The Neverending Story, and I can see that he handled both fantasy and child actors well in that film, which would be relevant to Ender's Game. However, that was also over twenty years ago. In the Line of Fire, Outbreak, and Air Force One were all really solid action/thrillers. His last two outings, The Perfect Storm and Troy were both pretty mediocre. But I haven't made any final judgments on him yet. He has a good two or three films left to do well with before he enters the category of real hackery. I remain openly skeptical about Peterson's work on Ender's Game. My bigger concern is that the studio will try and make it "less dark" which will inevitably ruin it. If it's even actually getting made this time. I guess we'll just have to see.


Blogger Elliot said...

Das Boot is great.
Try and skip the special addition if you can.
It's one of the finest war movies ever made, and a film that has been plundered by Hollywood time and time again.

4:33 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Yes, I've always wanted to see that...Why is the special edition no good?

5:49 PM  

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