By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Based on a story written three decades ago and set in a future dystopian Earth where children are manipulated into fighting an enemy race, the film "Ender's Game" could make its young adult and family audience ponder what ails present-day society.
Out in theaters on Friday, "Ender's Game" follows the journey of young boy Ender Wiggin, played by Asa Butterfield, who is singled out from childhood for his superior intellect and put through advanced warfare training.
Ender is isolated from his comrades and manipulated into commanding war against a hostile alien race by Colonel Graff, played by Harrison Ford. In doing so, Ender begins to garner a fascination and connection to the alien enemy known as Formics.
"It's about young people being asked to accept huge responsibilities, being trained for warfare because it's proposed that they have this capacity to absorb information more quickly than older people," Ford told Reuters.
Based on Orson Scott Card's novel of the same name published in 1985, "Ender's Game" is the first in a series of books, short stories and comics by the author, all part of the so-called "Enderverse," which may form the basis of a multipart film franchise for movie studio Lions Gate.
The film, which also stars Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley and Oscar-nominated rising star Hailee Steinfeld, features prominent themes of the emotional impact of warfare on young people who have been manipulated from childhood through propaganda to develop a hatred for the enemy, an alien race.
Ender's warfare training comes from videogames and large-scale computer simulations, displayed with striking special effects in the film.
Butterfield said "Ender's Game," while written three decades ago, was "scarily accurate" in how it resonated with present day issues.
"The amount of the stuff in the story written is so relevant today, for example, the Internet and drone warfare and blogging, it was predicted in the story 30 years ago, and now it's happened," the actor said.
Davis added that the film may lead audiences to consider the bigger human social connection.
"We've gotten in this age of social media that we've become desensitized, where we've put things out in the world not knowing that they have an effect," Davis said.
The film spotlights 16-year-old British actor Butterfield, who gained prominence as the lead in Martin Scorsese's 2011 fantasy adventure "Hugo." The tall, blue-eyed actor, who began acting as a child, said Ender was "definitely one of the more complicated characters I've had to play."
"The amount of depth and intensity that he experiences is really interesting for an actor, it's always exciting to have a role which both pushes you in your acting ability," he said.
In the film, Ender is separated from others in military school due to his high intellect and he channels his loneliness into leadership as he climbs the ranks to commander, defeating his enemies with tactical strategy and trying to find a median between compassion and cold-hearted violence.
"Without the emotional understanding of his enemy, (Ender)might not have had the capacity to defeat them. But it also imposes on him the feeling of responsibility for what he's done and obliges him to a behavior. He feels a responsibility to his enemy that's a real emotional complication for him," Ford said.
"Ender's Game" is part of a recent wave of young adult novels exploring dystopian futures brought to the big screen, led by the success of last year's "The Hunger Games," the blockbuster movie based on a trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins and distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment. The second installment, "Catching Fire," is due out November 22.
While Lions Gate may hope that "Ender's Game" kicks off a franchise, it is unclear if the film, made for $110 million, will generate enough business to start a new series.
To spawn a sequel, the movie needs to sell more than $100 million worth of tickets during its run in U.S. and Canadian theaters, estimates Alan Gould, a Wall Street analyst who follows Lions Gate for Evercore Partners.
He currently projects "Ender's Game" will take in a total of $70 million to $80 million in the United States and Canada during its theatrical run.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Richwine; editing by Mary Milliken and Doina Chiacu)