Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate
Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

9 Things to Know About Ender's Game

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate
Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Based on a book of the same name, Ender’s Game—which hits theaters today—takes place in a futuristic world where Earth has already been attacked by an insect-like alien race called Formics. To prepare for a potential future attack, the best and brightest of Earth’s children are trained, through increasingly difficult games of strategy, to become warriors. One, a 12-year-old named Ender Wiggin, emerges a gifted military leader. Here’s what you should know before you head to the theater.

1. It took nearly three decades to bring the book to the big screen.


Ender’s Game garnered Hollywood interest when it was published in 1985. But making a movie version actually happen was complicated: As author Orson Scott Card drafted version after version of the script, the project bounced from one producer to another, was picked up and then discarded by Warner Bros., and had a number of directors attached before Gavin Hood—who would also write the screenplay—came on board.

At least one person isn’t surprised it took this long to get an Ender’s Game movie made: Chartoff Productions’ Lynn Hendee, who optioned the rights for the book in the mid-’90s. "I've always thought it was going to take years to get this movie made because it's going to take the fans of the book who read it in their wonder years to grow old enough and be in positions of decision-making," she told Grantland.

Also instrumental in getting the movie made were Gigi Pritzker, founder of OddLot Entertainment; producer Roberto Orci, who has been involved in blockbuster sci-fi films from Transformers to Star Trek; and the visual effects company Digital Domain, which, for the first time, signed on to be a financial partner as well as a visual effects creator. Working with Hood, the company created a visual effects test reel of battle sequences as the director envisioned them; the team took that reel to Cannes, where more investors signed on, to the tune of $44 million.

Battle room concept art courtesy of Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate.

In 2011, Summit Entertainment signed on as co-investor and distributor, and the film version of Ender’s Game was officially on its way to being made.

2. The final script condensed the action of the book into a single year.

The book version of Ender’s Game takes place over several years. But that period of time wouldn’t work for the movie, so Hood placed all the action in a span of about 12 months. “Although I think Ender's Game is very faithful to the ideas and characters of the book, I think that it's got to be a slimmer version of the book and the book's complexities,” Harrison Ford, who plays Colonel Hyrum Graff, told Moviefone at San Diego Comic Con. “Also, the concentration on the internal thoughts of the character has got to be objectified and dramatized. I think Gavin Hood did a very good job with the screenplay.”

Among the things that got cut were a subplot where Ender’s siblings, Peter and Valentine, write political essays under pseudonyms and publish them to Earth’s global communication system, and Graff’s uncontrollable eating, which causes him to gain a lot of weight as the book progresses. “Been there done that for 42,” Ford told Moviefone, laughing. “I am not going in the fat suit again.”

3. The kids went to space camp...

Ender's Game Production Blog

What better way to prepare to portray kids living the military life in space than by going to space camp? According to the Ender’s Game production blog, “They had to train as though they were really headed into ZERO G. And this wasn’t just an afternoon spent taking a vanity tour. From the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), which simulates extra-vehicular shuttle ­missions in Earth’s orbit, to the microgravity training chair that prepared astronauts for moonwalks during the Apollo program, the week at Space Camp was genuine prep for the feeling of reality that this movie deserves.”

The actors not only did a lot of stunt work, but slept in bunk rooms and ate space food. “We learned how to march and salute and a few of the things you would learn at a military camp,” Asa Butterfield, who played Ender, told ScreenCrave. “So that was pretty good, getting some of that understanding. It gives you an insight into what the characters were experiencing.”

Ender's Game Production Blog

On one hand, the training was great because it allowed the actors to bond and become great friends. On the other hand, it could be a bit of a nightmare. "There was all sorts of marching, running. 'Left face, right face' where you turn in different directions," Butterfield told "If one person in the group of about 100 extras, and 10 or so cast [members], made a mistake, everyone had to do 10 push-ups. And we'd be jogging and if one person fell behind, we'd have to do 10 push-ups." (There must have been a lot of push-ups—even the production blog talked about them!)

But the most difficult thing to do, at least for Butterfield, was “Waking up at 7 o’clock. That was painful.”

4. ...And had an astronaut tell them what Zero-G is like.

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Another challenge was portraying Zero-G in the battle scenes, which the actors filmed in harnesses. “Harnesses aren't the most comfortable things you can wear,” Butterfield told io9. “It was hard work, we had a lot of physical training. And we spent a lot of time practicing getting the movements and pretending to be in zero gravity.” Thankfully, they had a chance to speak with someone who had first-hand experience. “An astronaut came in once to talk to us about moving in zero gravity and what it's really like in space so we could give the most believable performance,” Butterfield said. “You have to move really slowly…fluidly and smoothly. When you're in the harnesses to stop yourself from falling at the waist, which is where they're connected, you have to be tensed up. So keeping actions smooth whilst having your whole body completely tensed is surprisingly difficult.”

5. Ender’s Game was filmed at a NASA facility.

Wikimedia Commons

The production filmed in New Orleans, where homes and schools stood in for the Wiggins' house and Ender’s Earth-bound school. When it came time to build the sets for the movie’s command school and otherworldly military base, the production set up shop in unused warehouses at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility, which has 1.87 million square feet of space. The location not only gave the production the room it needed to build its elaborate sets, but also provided access to experts on physics and astrophysics they might not have spoken to otherwise. “The studios ... were huge warehouses,” Butterfield told Collider. “There was a gate at the back that said top secret, and you could see stuff behind it, like space ships covered in bin liners. It was quite cool.”

6. They tried to do as much of the battle room scenes practically as possible.

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Though Digital Domain had created a CG test reel of the Battle Room sequences, Hood was determined to do as much of the scenes practically as possible, which meant building huge sets and hanging his actors from harnesses controlled by cables and motorized arms. But some things were still manipulated digitally, including, occasionally, an actor’s movement. “If you don’t do a completely smooth move, it can result in incorrect physics,” visual effects supervisor Matthew Butler told the New York Times, which breaks down the creation of one battle room sequence in this piece. “We stabilized the content and repositioned some of it.” Other completely digital characters were added to the scenes as well.

7. The costumers invented the fabric for the students’ flash suits.

Ender's Game Production Blog

Building the world of a futuristic sci-fi movie often requires thinking outside of the box. According to the production blog, only synthetic fabrics were used to create the students’ uniforms, but the Command School flash suits—which, in the film, will immobilize a portion of the body when hit with the beam of an opposing team’s raygun—had to be made, in the words of the blog, from "thin air." Costume designer Christine Bieselin-Clark used “virtually non-existent fabrics designed by our incredible production team. The idea was to take cues from ‘extreme sports’ to inspire our design, using real world practicality as opposed to the heightened reality of superhero spandex and a cape.”

Butterfield told io9 that the suits weren’t very comfortable. “They look incredible, when you're wearing them,” he said. “[But] you're very hot, to say the least.”

8. The actors—and director—played pranks on each other on set.

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Hailee Steinfeld, who plays Petra, told Moviefone that the film’s young stars “had this thing where we would literally scare each other everywhere we went.” But even director Hood got in on the pranking action. “Moises Arias, who plays Bonzo Madrid, had to shave his hair for the ending scene,” Steinfeld said. “Moises handled it very well, but you could see he was a little, you know, taken aback by looking at himself in the mirror and this drastic change. And Asa and I walked on set and Gavin turns around and has a black eye. My heart dropped. I was like, ‘What just happened?’ And [Gavin] goes, ‘I told him. I told him that he could take it out on me because I made him shave his head.’ And I was literally, like, crying. I was like, ‘Moises would never do that. What's happening?’ And then they were like, ‘Just kidding! It's makeup!’ That was the biggest prank.”

9. At least one real-life military man has praised Ender's leadership abilities.

In Ender’s World, a book of essays on Ender’s Game, Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Tom Ruby writes about what makes Ender an exceptional leader. “He was not the accidental hero. Ender was for real,” Ruby writes. “Bad leaders in Ender’s Game and throughout history are threatened by other people’s competence. They luck into victory. They intimidate rather than motivate. Ender, on the other hand, seeks out intelligent subordinates and is confident enough not to have to be the best or smartest. He knows his abilities and the strengths and weaknesses of his team and seeks victory over adulation. In this sense, Ender is like one of the best bosses I ever had. … I think the lessons military leaders can learn from Ender’s Game are numerous and simple.”

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
6 X-Rated Library Collections
The reading room of the British Library, circa 1840
The reading room of the British Library, circa 1840
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

During the 19th century, some librarians became preoccupied with the morality (or lack thereof) of some of their titles. As a result, a number of libraries created special collections for "obscene" works, to ensure that only readers with a valid academic purpose might access them. Below are six examples, adapted from Claire Cock-Starkey’s new book A Library Miscellany.


At the British Library (or British Museum Library, as it was called then), it was John Winter Jones, Keeper of Printed Books from 1856, who was responsible for the creation of the “Private Case.” Titles that were deemed subversive, heretical, libelous, obscene, or that contained state secrets were kept out of the general catalog, stored in separate shelving, and marked with the shelfmark category “PC” (for private case). By far the majority of books in the private case were pornographic or erotic texts; it's rumored that by the mid-1960s the case contained over 5000 such texts, including George Witt’s collection of books on phallicism and Charles Reginald Dawes’s collection of French erotica from 1880–1930.

What was unusual about the Private Case was that it was so secretive: None of the books were recorded in any catalog, as if the collection didn’t exist. But starting in 1983, all books once in the Private Case have been listed in the catalog, and many have been returned to the main collection—although librarians may still check that a reader has academic reasons for consulting some of the more scandalous titles.


General stacks of the Bibliotheque nationale de France

L’Enfer, which translates as “the hell,” was created in 1830 to house the French national library’s large collection of erotica and other books that were considered “contrary to good morals.” Many of the works were obtained by the library through confiscation, but fortunately the librarians had the foresight to preserve these scandalous texts. The collection—which still exists—has been largely kept private and was only fully cataloged in 1913, when about 855 titles were recorded.

Modern pornographic magazines and erotic fiction do not get cast into L’Enfer: It is only for rare works or works of cultural significance, such as a handwritten copy of the Marquis de Sade’s Les Infortunes de la Vertu (1787) and The Story of O by Pauline Réage (1954). In 2007, the library put on a public exhibition of some of the more fascinating (and titillating) texts in L’Enfer, finally granting the public a glimpse of this hidden collection.


The New York Public Library Main Reading Room
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

At the New York Public Library, some obscene works were once hand-marked with "***", which indicated that readers who wanted to consult those volumes had to be supervised. (Librarians regularly collected erotica, including from nearby Times Square, as part of their "mandate to collect life as it was lived," according to The New York Times.This system began in the mid-20th century and caused certain titles to be locked in caged shelves; it also meant that the items could only be consulted in a small restricted part of the reading rooms after special permission was granted.


Radcliffe Camera building, part of the Bodleian Library
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The restricted collection at the Bodleian Library was created by E. W. B. Nicholson, who was head librarian from 1886–1913. No one is quite sure why it was named after the Greek letter phi, but some have suggested it was because it sounds like “fie!” which you might exclaim when asked to retrieve a book from this collection. Or, perhaps it stems from the first letter “phi” of the Greek “phaula” or “phaulos,” meaning worthless, wicked, or base. The collection included pornography alongside works of sexual pathology, and students needed to ask a tutor to confirm their academic need for a book before the librarians would let them consult any texts with a phi shelfmark. Today, many of the books have been reclassified into the general collection, but the phi shelfmark still persists.


 Widener Memorial Library at Harvard University
Darren McCollester/Newsmakers

The Widener Library still holds its restricted collection behind a locked copper door in the basement of the library—not because they still want to hide it, but simply because (it's said) no one has the time to redistribute the collection back into main circulation. The collection was thought to have been set up in the 1950s, after a sociology professor complained that many texts he needed for his class were missing or defaced (the Playboy centerfold was apparently always going astray), and thus the restricted collection was created to protect and preserve rather than to censor. The collection was only added to for a 30-year period and is now closed; however, its classification reveals something of the social attitudes of the times towards titles such as The Passions and Lechery of Catherine the Great (1971) and D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). The X part of the shelfmark does not stand for X-rated but indicates that the books are unusual; the R part stands for “restricted.”


Trinity College Library, Cambridge University
Central Press/Getty Images

As library collections are frequently made up of a series of smaller collections donated to the institution, they may often acquire titles that the library may otherwise have not chosen to collect—such as some of the more risqué works. Cambridge University Library felt it had a duty to students to protect them from some of the more offensive books in their collection, and for this reason the Arc (short for arcana—meaning secrets or mysteries) classification was created. As with other restricted collections, Cambridge’s Arc provides a fascinating insight into changing moral attitudes. Some of the highlights included what is considered by some historians as the first gay novel, L’Alcibiade fanciullo a scola (Alcibiades the Schoolboy), published in 1652; a 1922 copy of Ulysses by James Joyce (notable because at that time the book was being burned by UK Customs Officers); and a misprinted copy of the Cambridge Bible.


The Sistine Hall, once part of the Vatican Library
Michal Osmenda, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

There has always been a rumor that the Vatican Library holds the largest collection of pornographic material in the world, in a collection supposedly known as the “Inferno,” but in fact this honor goes to the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research in Bloomington, Indiana. It is thought that the Vatican Library’s collection was created from the thousands of erotic works that have been confiscated by the Vatican over the years. However, no evidence for the collection has been found, and the (admittedly incredibly secretive) Vatican librarians deny its very existence.

This article is an expanded version of an entry in Claire Cock-Starkey’s A Library Miscellany, published by Bodleian Library Publishing.

8 Professional Translators Choose Their Favorite 'Untranslatable' Words

Readers tend to think of a translated novel as having just one author. While that’s technically true, each work contains two voices: that of the author and the translator. Translators must ensure that their interpretation remains faithful to the style and intent of the author, but this doesn't mean that nothing is added in the process. Gabriel García Márquez, the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, once famously said that the English version of his novel was, in some ways, better than his original work in Spanish.

“A good translation is itself a work of art,” translator Nicky Harman writes. Put differently, translator Daniel Hahn believes translation is literally impossible. “I don’t just mean it’s really, really difficult, but really, it’s not actually possible,” he says. “There’s not a single word in any of the languages I translate that can map perfectly onto a word in English. So it’s always interpretative, approximate, creative.”

In a show of appreciation for this challenging craft, the Man Booker International Prize was created to annually recognize one outstanding work of literature that has been translated from its original language into English and published in the UK. Ahead of the winner being announced on May 22, the translators of eight Man Booker International Prize nominees have shared their favorite "untranslatable" words from the original language of the novels they translated into English.


Sam Taylor, who translated The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet from French to English, said the best definition of bref is “Well, you get the idea.” It’s typically used to punctuate the end of a long, rambling speech, and is sometimes used for comedic effect. “It’s such a concise (and intrinsically sardonic) way of cutting a long story short,” Taylor says.


Unsatisfied with any of the English words at their disposal, translators Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff left this word in Spanish in Die, My Love, a psychological novel by Ariana Harwicz. The word, which describes a female healer who uses prayer to break hexes and cure ailments, was explained in the text itself. The translated version reads: “If only there were santiguadoras living in these parts, those village women who for a fee will pray away your guy’s indigestion and your toddler’s tantrums, simple as that.”


The German word Hellhörig "literally means 'bright-hearing' and is used, for example, to describe walls so thin you can hear every noise in the next room," says Simon Pare, who translated The Flying Mountain, a novel by Christoph Ransmayr. Pare notes that while English equivalents like "paper-thin" and “flimsy” carry the same negative connotation, they don’t have the same poetic quality that hellhörig has. "'The walls have ears,' while expressive, is not the same thing,” Pare laments.


Vorstellung (another German word) can be defined as an idea or notion, but when its etymology is broken down, it suddenly doesn’t seem so simple. It stems from the verb vorstellen, meaning “to place in front of—in this case, in front of the mind’s eye,” according to Susan Bernofsky, who translated Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. “The Vorstellung is the object of that act of mental conjuring-up," Bernofsky adds. (Fun fact: All nouns are capitalized in German.)

5. 눈치 (NUNCH'I)

Literally translating to “eye measure,” the Korean word nunch’i describes “an awareness of how those around you are currently feeling, plus their general character, and therefore the appropriate response,” says Deborah Smith, the translator of Han Kang’s The White Book. Korean culture stresses the importance of harmony, and thus it’s important to avoid doing or saying anything that could hurt another person’s pride, according to CultureShock! Korea: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette.

6. ON

Anyone who has survived French 101 has seen this word, but it’s a difficult concept to fully grasp. It’s also one that crops up regularly in novels, making it “the greatest headache for a translator,” according to Frank Wynne, who translated Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes. On is often translated as “one” (as in “one shouldn’t ask such questions”), but in general conversation it can come off as “preposterously disdainful,” Wynne notes. Furthermore, the word is used in different ways to express very different things in French, and can be taken to mean “we,” “people,” “they,” and more, according to French Today.


Store this one away for your next cocktail party. The Spanish word tertulia can be defined as “an enjoyable conversation about political or literary topics at a social gathering,” according to Camilo A. Ramirez, who translated Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Munoz Molina. Although tertulia is tricky to translate, it's one of Ramirez's favorite Spanish words because it invokes a specific atmosphere and paints a scene in the reader’s mind. For instance, the first chapter of The Hobbit, “An Unexpected Party,” becomes “Una Tertulia Inesperada” when translated into Spanish.


Like the French on, the Polish words pan (an honorific address for men) and pani (an address for women) are challenging to explain in English. While many European languages have both a formal and informal “you,” pan and pani are a different animal. “[It's] believed to derive from the days of a Polish noble class called the szlachta—another tradition unique to Poland,” says Jennifer Croft, who translated Flights by Olga Tokarczuk into English. This form of address was originally used for Polish gentry and was often contrasted with the word cham, meaning peasants, according to, a Polish culture site. Now, it’s used to address all people, except for children or friends.


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