Will Ender’s Game make a good film franchise?

Ender’s Game is once again a viable AAA film property, but it’s questionable whether a new film would be good for the property.

Summit Entertainment announced last week that they’ve obtained the rights to Ender’s Game with the intent to create another youth-driven series. The production company has recently been very successful with their youth-driven Twilight Saga, and is beginning work on The Hunger Games, which is based on a series of novels in the same vein as Twilight (coming of age story with mythological monsters mixed in).

Ender’s Game, an Orson Scott Card novel, is the story of Andrew Wiggin, a third-born child, in a world where multiple births are frowned upon.

When he’s recruited for tactical training (for which, he learns, he was born), he is discovered to be a great tactical genius, and he quickly rises through the ranks of the tactical school, along the way making friends and enemies of children from around the world, children who will one day be great leaders or generals in their home countries.

There are a few problems with Summit’s plan: First is the quality of films that summit has been producing.

Everyone who loved Twilight, loved it because they already loved the books, not really caring that the kids were only moderately talented (they weren’t hacks, but they were no Radcliffe and Watson) or that the production values were a bit low – about $37m for the first film. 

That won’t cut it for Ender’s Game. With the special effects and vast amount of weightless choreography, if this film doesn’t cost at least $150m, they’re skimping.

In addition, the teenagers they find for this film need to be very talented. There are a lot of very difficult scenes to play out here, and especially the roles of Petra and Bean will be exceedingly challenging. The children also must be younger – 10 to 14 or so, increasing the challenge of locating good talent. All this is combined with the fact that Ender fans are going to be much more discerning than Twilight fans, as they are mostly sci-fi geeks who are accustomed to high production values.

Second, the story within the pages of Ender’s game is not really for children. It contains many scenes, including brutal, naked, child-on-child murder. These scenes are integral to the story, as they make a big part of who Ender becomes, but there is no way they’d be able to make a ‘youth-oriented’ film with such scenes. They either have to make the film counting on an R rating, which would cut their audience, or remove those scenes, which would drastically change the story, alienating fans of the book.

Finally, there is an issue with actually making it a series. Ender’s Game is the first and last book in Ender’s story which contains any real action sequences. The second book picks up with Ender as an adult, with no opportunity for stories taking place in-between, and the rest of the series is spent mostly in silent contemplation of the things he’s done, or in conversation with a sentient interplanetary computer network. There is nowhere for the story to go into a second film following Ender, so what could the sequel be?

The truly interesting story in Card’s Ender story-world is Ender’s Shadow, the story of Bean, the smallest kid in Battle School, who later becomes a major, yet silent, driving force of history. It’s still not really a children’s story, as it has even more of the violence, and terrible treatment of children than Ender’s story does, but at least it has a child protagonist, and lots of action.

What it comes down to is that there are a lot of ways to screw up this film and its subsequent franchise possibility, and I’m not sure I trust Summit to follow the right course. As much as I love Ender’s Game, I’m sort-of hoping this attempt dies in development hell, as every past attepts to make an Ender’s Game film has done.