On the heels of Thursday’s viral video and character posters, fans packed Hall H at Comic-Con International in San Diego for the world-premiere of the trailer for the adaptation of author Orson Scott Card’s sci-fi novel Ender’s Game. Present for the screening and Q&A were director Gavin Hood, producer Roberto Orci and stars Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld.
The Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment film is set on a future Earth at war with bug-like aliens called Formics. As interplanetary fighting heightens, a military-school program is established to recruit bright young minds for rigorous training, with the story centering on the gifted Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (Butterfield).
Before the trailer even premiered, the crowd chanted for Star Wars and Indiana Jones veteran Ford, who sauntered to his seat, calm and cool, in front of the roaring fans.
The lights dimmed and we were treated to the trailer, with Ford’s character Colonel Hyrum Graff providing narration to footage of countless alien ships approaching Earth and torching the ground as he explains that a first invasion nearly destroyed the planet. “They will be back,” he states ominously. We see a futuristic car approach a lake surrounded by mountains, with Butterfield’s Ender appearing to train in front of touch screens as we hear, “The world needs you. You were bred for this — you see things in a way we can’t.” Ben Kingsley’s Mazer Rackham meets with Ford and Viola Davis’ Major Gwen Anderson as we see Ender manipulating ships and battles. After a particularly successful battle, Major Anderson deadpans, “I’ve never seen anyone do that.” The superiors continue to convene as the stakes get higher, until it becomes clear it’s the boy’s life or the world’s survival. Ender is revealed in a sleek suit, and he goes off book and abandons his supports to helm an epic battle, controlling hundreds of ships with the flick of a wrist.
Orci noted the novel and film will be separate entities, explaining, “You want to do what’s true to the book… take what you love about the book, but also show people who don’t know the book why you loved it. You cannot take the love of a book for granted — the audience is going to come and see it for its own merits. That’s the line you have to walk.”
Of embodying such an iconic character, Butterfield said, “It was pretty big, to say the least. It was exciting for me to bring such a beloved novel and someone like Ender to life, and it was a challenge, but we had a lot of fun doing it.”
The preparation for the film’s young cast proved grueling. Steinfeld recalled, “It was the first time that I’d ever had to physically train for a film — we had about three weeks of training before we started filming. We went to space camp in Alabama, we went through a military boot camp where we learned how to march and how to salute. It was very physically demanding, but I loved it.”
Asked what it was like to play Ender’s mentor, Ford gruffly joked with moderator Chris Hardwick, “I would correct your observation in that he is not so much Ender’s mentor as he is Ender’s manipulator.” As Hardwick good-naturedly groveled, Ford joked — in his classic gravely grumble — “I am never coming back here.”
The actor went on to address what attracted him to the script, saying, “I was drawn to the complexity of the moral issues here — the questions about the complex moral issues that are involved in the military. The ability to wage war removed from the battlefield is one of the realities of our life now. This was unknown 28 years ago, but the issues of the manipulation of young people for their value as soldiers because of their special skills, their motor skill capacities, and because of their conceptual freedom, is something that was really complex and interesting to me. And I was delighted to be involved in playing a character that wrestled with these concerns and brought them into public consciousness.”
Hood confessed one of his favorite things about the book was the, “Amazing environment, the battle room. It’s truly beautiful. There’s the real technical challenge of bringing that visual idea to the screen. What I love at the heart of the book is that this is not a simple story of good and evil. I’m kind of bored with that — we’ve seen enough visual-effects movies; visual effects don’t do it for us unless they’re supported by a great story. And this is totally a great, complex story… to have characters that are not simple, that wrestle with their own capacity for good and evil.”
The director went on to talk about his incredible cast, saying, “You can’t fake intelligence,” and then demonstrated his camaraderie with Ford by joking, “When he’s not having a good day, you bring in Sir Ben Kingsley and he makes up for it.” The comment made the stoic Ford crack a smile.
The first question from the audience addressed the controversy surrounding Card’s writings about homosexuality and his opposition to same-sex marriage, which have led to a boycott of the film and a statement from Lionsgate reaffirming its support of the gay community.
“The truth is, our first reaction when this first came up was we never want to invite controversy and we were first concerned with anyone who might be hurt by anything that comes up in anything we’re associated with,” Orci replied. “But, we decided to use the attention that’s on us now — no matter how bad — to completely and unequivocally support Lionsgate in the defense of LBGT rights… and a lot of people worked on this movie, a lot of people worked to get this movie out… and I would hate to see the efforts of all these people thwarted for the opinions of less than a percent of the people behind this movie. Particularly because the message of the book and of the movie is tolerance, compassion, empathy — all things that we hope are going to live on long beyond statements that any of us make. And so, rather than shy away from the controversy, we’re happy to embrace it and use the spotlight to say we support LGBT rights and human rights.” His remarks received intermittent bursts of applause, and were met with a roar upon completion.
Another audience member asked which prop they’d choose to bring home if they could take only one. Hood joked, “Harrison Ford.” Butterfield said, “This futuristic wash kit they gave us, which included some futuristic hair brushes and a futuristic toothbrush. It had like flashing lights and stuff.”
And, taking advantage of Ford’s presence, another brave audience member capped off the panel by asking Ford if Han Solo and Indiana Jones were to meet, what their first words would be to each other. Ford shrugged and deadpanned, “Hi, how are you?” The audience roared with laughter.