Comic-Con: ENDER’S GAME Panel Recap: New Trailer Revealed, Orson Scott Card’s Involvement, Putting the Characters Before the Visual Effects, and More

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I finally got around to reading Ender’s Game last month, and it’s an interesting book.  It’s incredibly strange at some points, but it’s also quite visual in addition to having interesting characters, so there’s certainly the potential for a strong adaptation.  After today’s Comic-Con panel, I’m still not entirely convinced, but I’m pretty damn close.  If nothing else, the action should be exhilarating, and while it may not quite hit at the deeper themes (it sounds like they were going too broad to really hone in one aspect), it should at least be an entertaining sci-fi flick, especially where the space battles are concerned.

Hit the jump to read my recap of the panel.  Ender’s Game opens November 1st.

enders-game-promo-posterModerator Chris Hardwicke brings the panelists on stage: Producer Bob Orci, director Gavin Hood, and stars Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, and Harrison Ford.  Naturally, the crowd goes wild for Ford.

Then they lead off with what they say is a new clip, but really it’s a new trailer.  I’m not going to go through it beat-by-beat because it was rapid-fire, but the focus was on the epic battles between the International Fleet and the alien “buggers”.  The effects look great, although I’m a little more curious about how Hood’s going to handle the null-gravity battle room since that’s a unique aspect to the story.  We only saw a bit of that, but what we saw looked good.  As for any narrative aspects, it’s mostly Colonel Graff (Ford) growling about how Ender (Butterfield) is Earth’s last hope even though he may not be ready for the weight of war.

After the trailer was over, Orci talks about the challenge of adapting the book, and while he didn’t write the screenplay, he wanted to make sure that the uninitiated could understand why the book has been so popular for so long.

Butterfield said he and Gavin talked a lot before they started shooting about how they envisioned the character, and it was a rewarding challenge to bring Ender to life.

Steinfeld talked about the physical demands and for the first time having to train for the film.  They had three weeks of training—they went to space camp in Alabama as well as military boot camp to learn marching, saluting, cadences, etc.

enders-game-gravity-room-battle-arenaWhen Hardwicke asks Ford about being Ender’s “mentor”, Ford replies that Graff isn’t Ender’s mentor, but “Ender’s manipulator.”  Ford then joked, “I’m never coming back in response to Hardwicke’s previous assumption regarding Graff and Ender’s relationship.  Ford goes on to say that he was interested by the moral questions especially as they relate to the military.  He made the insightful point that the book envisioned what is now an every day reality in terms of being able to control war completely removed from the battlefield vis-à-vis our reliance on combat drones.  There’s also the complexity of manipulating young people to do this kind of fighting.

Hood talked about the challenge of adapting the book, and the two things he liked the best.  First, he loved the environment, especially the battle room, so there’s the visual idea.  But he also loved the heart of the book because it’s not a simple story of good and evil.  “Visual effects don’t do it for us unless they’re supported by a great story,” says Hood (a statement that was greeted by cheers).  He added that he also liked how the characters wrestle with their morality, and he was glad to have actors who have the talent to convey that.

Audience Q&A:

Unsurprisingly, the leadoff question was about Orson Scott Card’s involvement with the movie due to his anti-gay comments and the proposed boycott because of the financial rewards he would receive from ticket-buyers.  Orci says they didn’t want to invite controversy, but they wanted to use that attention to unequivocally support Lionsgate’s support of LGBT rights as a part of all human rights.  “A lot of people worked on this movie,” says Orci, “and I would hate to see the efforts of all those people’s work thwarted because of those who were a very small percentage.”

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On how they picked what themes they wanted to explore: Hood said they focused on the themes of leadership, compassion, tolerance, and self-identity.  Also, “how do we arrive at the point where we figure out not just how to lead others, but how to lead yourself?”  Hood added, “If I had one goal, it would be true to the story and the spirit of Ender Wiggin.”

If they could choose one prop to take home from the set:

Hood: “Harrison Ford.”

If Indiana Jones and Han Solo met, what would their first words to each other be?

Ford: “Hi.  How are you?”

Does Ford think Han Solo would be a good fit for Colonel Graff’s army?

“I don’t think Han Solo would be good as a soldier in anybody’s army.  He’s what we would call now, ‘an independent contractor’.”

As a newcomer to Ender’s Game, I don’t have the years (and for some, decades) of investment in a strong adaption.  What I’ve seen thus far and what I gathered from the panel is that they have a solid understanding of the material (at least as I interpreted the book), and the challenge is finding a way to realize it.  Visually, it should be a success.  But until we see more character stuff (and I wish they had shown us an actual clip), I can’t say for sure if Hood has reached his goal of conveying themes of “leadership, compassion, tolerance, and self-identity.”  But this is Comic-Con, and if it’s about dazzling the crowd with action, then Ender’s Game had a successful panel.

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