So here I am semi-live-blogging the Ender’s Game trailer. Why? Call it the triumph of hope against my surefire knowledge that Hollywood would love to do nothing more than transmute every childhood memory I once held dear into a printing press that coughs out diamond-studded dollar bills. If you have no idea why I’m so worked up, just know that the Hugo and Nebula award-winning young adult Ender series is basically the gateway drug to science fiction. After blasting through its labyrinthine story lines, true junkies quickly move onto Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Frank Herbert’s Dune, as well as significant statistical increase in death-by-wedgie. Notwithstanding Orson Scott Card's stomach-churning homophobia and its creepy-eugenicist justifications, Ender’s Game inspires a cultlike fanaticism when read at that delicate age where you’re just developing a taste for thorny morality and secretly hope there’s something mytho-poetic to all those hours you waste on video games.
In short, it’s great teen fiction, the kind that transmutes the mundane Darwinian brutality of childhood into emotionally packed explosions — which means I’m willing to suspend cynicism in the hopes that Hollywood could make a film that will live up to the source material. After all, Ender’s Game, like On the Road and The Great Gatsby, has been incubating in the movie-development meat grinder since phones required quarters and tech bloggers worried that “iPad” was an off-putting name. Also, Orson Scott Card must have been holding it pretty close to the vest given that he’s got a producer credit and the movie has taken 20 years to make it to the screen. So, this trailer (and the accompanying Google Hangout where it debuted) is our first real glimpse at Ender and the first piece of evidence we have to answer the question: Has Hollywood sullied my childhood yet again? Personally, I’m sticking to the trailer in rendering my judgment, mostly because the floating heads of the official Google hang freak me out too much. (When Asa Butterfield’s face popped up, I got paranoid that he was watching me through my Mac’s camera and closed the window quicker than an intern shutting an NSFW link.) So here we go.
Reaction to the first shots: Are those opening Top Gun–esque images cut scenes from Independence Day or just a sly acknowledgement of Ender’s '80s roots? Next, Harrison Ford continues his late-career channeling of McGruff the Crime Dog with some gravelly, pretty pissed-sounding voice-over. And it looks like they must have nabbed the production designer from Tron: Legacy. I bet Daft Punk’s behind those bike-helmet masks. Oh, looks like we’re getting our first peek into the famous Battle Room — the zero-gravity chamber where Ender and his lethally adorable compatriots do their version of no-holds-barred rhythmic gymnastics. That looks promising.
OK, the trailer is quickly ramping up; cut to something that’s probably an alien ship, although it bears a strong resemblance to the abstract glass sculptures at my local Psychic Eye bookshop. Back to Harrison Ford, whose years of acting have finally frozen his face into the dictionary definition of “stern.” Side note: I actually think he’s great casting as Ender’s ambiguously intentioned mentor, Graff. And Butterfield looks good as Ender; that visage of innocent, wide-eyed wonder feels custom-built for PG-13 brutality. (Heck, he even looks like the artist’s rendering from the cover of Ender’s Shadow.) And here we go, Ben Kingsley pops up with his super-subtle henna face tattoo. I’m still not convinced this was entirely a filmmaker-driven decision. Frankly, I think Kingsley just went super deep into character for Iron Man 3 and never came out: The face tattoo was the result. Suffice it to say, I doubt we’ll see any more ad-lib antics from him in this series. OK, the trailer finally climaxes with the predictable explosions, sound design ripped from Transformers, and Asa Butterfield screaming with the same amount of rage I felt after I first saw the Super Mario Bros. movie.
What’s the ultimate verdict? Unfortunately, my jury’s still out. The trailer is clearly playing it safe, intended to evoke every science fiction franchise that’s ever grossed over $100 million at the domestic box office. I like what I see enough not to be totally dismayed — kudos to the Battle Room design and the glimpse of alien architecture/space design at the end — but this could just as easily be blander than reheated white rice. I’m still willing to hope against hope, though, that Ender’s Game won’t obliterate whatever remains of my morally ambiguous inner 7-year-old.