film reviews | movies | features | BRWC Sonata

Even after the weak reception of Ender’s Game, another Orson Scott Card work will be making an appearance in film. This time, filmmakers – specifically Yaron Zilberman, who marked his feature directorial debut with 2012’s A Late Quartet –  will try again to bring Card success on screen with Card’s favorite short story, Unaccompanied Sonata. Written in 1979 for Omni Magazine, Card said that it is “the most powerful thing I have ever written.” Literary critics seemed to agree, since the story was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story as well as the Nebula Award for Best Short Story.

Though if Ender’s Game, Card’s most popular and financially successful written work, couldn’t live up to expectations, many might worry Unaccompanied Sonata has little hope as well. The novel has a huge fan base and is present on both college and military mandatory reading lists, yet Ender’s Game failed to gain traction at the box office. The consensus among critics was that the film lacked the nuance or emotion of the novel, resulting in a protagonist that became flat and uninteresting. The New Yorker called the film “hard to comprehend and even harder to endure.”

Fans of Ender’s Game felt that the film was too kind, hardly probing the surface of the issues with child-soldiers, and also suffered from poor plot and pacing issues. The incredibly intelligent protagonist, Ender, is portrayed as a generally good, bland kid – a major fault, since Ender’s journey in the original novel is driven by awareness of his own ability to be cruel. Even though a script is said to have been written for the sequel, it’s not likely to be filmed. Ender’s Game went quickly to DVD, is already available for streaming on DirecTV today, and will likely appear on Netflix soon despite its November 2013 release date.

The adaptation of Unaccompanied Sonata will hopefully make a stronger impression than both Ender’s Game and Zilberman’s A Late Quartet, which was also met with lukewarm reviews despite a cast of renowned actors. Card was reluctant about signing over the rights to his story, but has faith in Zilberman’s ability to bring the musical tale to life. Card wrote of his choice, “It is my best story, in the hands of the only director I know of who could possibly make it live as a visual and musical experience.”

If Orson Scott Card’s intuition is correct, it may lead him to a successful film venture. Ender’s Game failed at least partially because it was an orgy of action and graphics without complex emotion; it was a pop song based on a beloved book. Zilberman’s A Late Quartet, however, is a film that focuses, sometimes painfully close, on an aging quartet. It portrays the subtle power-dynamics of the group, while developing the mood through the troupe’s music. Unaccompanied Sonata (the adaptation of which will be called simply, Sonata) then, will hopefully stand much closer to fine art.

Of course, Card’s political opinions could possibly damage the film’s commercial potential. Ender’s Game, though idolized by many, was boycotted by sci-fi fans due to Card’s well-known political and religious opinions. He has supported laws that criminalize homosexuality and he is vehemently opposed to gay marriage. He infamously wrote, “…marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down…”

Unaccompanied Sonata stays far away from the topic of marriage – but then again, so did Ender’s Game. Sonata follows a musical child prodigy, Christian, who is taken from his parents by a totalitarian regime and kept inside a house deep in the woods. The character is deprived of all music for decades and instructed to compose his own songs on a multi-levered machine. At thirty years old, he manages to listen to a recording of Bach. Afterwards, Christian is forbidden from ever playing music again, since the regime believes his songs will be impure and derivative.

Unaccompanied Sonata has many obvious parallels to Orson Scott Card’s other works, mainly the presence of a “messiah” in the midst of a harsh world full of people who are dead set against letting him succeed. This recurrent theme in Card’s work may explain why his stories are suddenly being adapted to film; heroes struggling against tyranny are Hollywood’s moneymaker this season, as evidenced by Divergent, The Hunger Games and more. If Card’s work is given even a quarter of the attention of these major motion pictures, and his personal opinions are kept quiet during the promotional period, it may be that Sonata escapes the fate of other poorly done, sci-fi predecessors, and proves itself the well-done film venture Card believes it will be.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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