Ender’s Game arrives tomorrow to… well, actually not much in the way of fanfare. Summit and Lionsgate have been trying to promote the movie, but it just doesn’t seem to be catching on if the buzz is any indication. So, how are things going to shake out… and what might be holding it back?
First of all, honestly, it’s probably losing out to some movie about turkeys for the number one spot. That said, there have been surprises before, and the reviews have been surprisingly strong considering the trailers. Still, it’s an effects-heavy movie based on a widely popular book… so why the lackluster reception?
The first, and most basic, problem is that Summit, the company that produced this movie, was bought out by Lionsgate last year, right before production on this movie started. In other words, it went from a movie that was the centerpiece of a studio’s fall slate to a contractual obligation for a studio that bought out the producer because it wanted to remake Twilight. Lionsgate couldn’t care less about Ender’s Game; to them, it’s a movie made with someone else’s money that they see some cash on, either way. This may explain the… somewhat lackluster trailers and Harrison Ford pretty much trashing the entire experience, however obliquely.
First of all, Gavin Hood, the director, is going to carry X-Men Origins: Wolverine around his neck like an albatross for the rest of his career, whether that’s fair or not. Even Joel Schumacher has seen more forgiveness than Hood, and that’s probably dinging this movie a little bit. Secondly, there’s… well, there’s Orson Scott Card.
We’ve gotten into the sticky issue of Card and his stance on gay people more than once on here, and how it screws over people who just want to see a good adaptation of a book they love. But this is essentially the Kobiyashi Maru of First World Problems. Card is inevitably going to drag his politics into it no matter how this goes, because that’s what Card does whenever this issue comes up.
Lionsgate has been engaged in a bunch of damage control on this issue, and it’s pretty clear they were hoping Card, who apparently got his check a long time ago and won’t be making money on this directly, would just shut up and go away. No such luck. And that’s probably not helping.
Timing, Timing, Timing
Finally, there’s the fact that November 1st is just weird timing for this movie. It’s coming out later in the year because, by all accounts, there’s actually an attempt at making this a bit more thoughtful than you might expect from the marketing, and there’s a surprising dearth of genre movies in theaters right now. But it’s got to move fast because Thor is coming to party and will be strong through Thanksgiving, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire arrives the 22nd.
Really, that, more than anything else, is the problem here. Most filmgoers won’t care about the stuff above, they’ll care about where to spend their entertainment dollars… and honestly, Katniss and the Avenger with the muscles is probably going to wind up being a bigger box office draw. But we’ll see tomorrow, when the movie rolls out to wider markets.