Cineworld was lucky enough to attend an all-star Q&A session for forthcoming sci-fi Ender's Game.
Adapted from Orson Scott Card's seminal novel, the film stars Asa Butterfield as an unnaturally gifted child who is drawn into a battle strategy to defend Earth from invading aliens. Ender's strategic skill may be the one thing that can save Earth from total annihilation. Harrison Ford co-stars as Ender's mentor Colonel Graff.
Ford, Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, director Gavin Hood, producers Bob Orci and Gigi Pritzker and actress Hailee Steinfeld were in attendance to discuss the movie. The film is released on 25 October. Click here to book your tickets.
Ender’s Game was published nearly 30 years ago. Why has it taken so long to become a motion picture?
Bob Orci: Why did it take you so long to get the rights to the book, Gigi? [laughter]
Gigi Pritzker: I had a nephew who read the book a long time ago and loved it. And this was a boy who had a hard time reading so the fact that he read a book was shocking to me. I decided I needed to read it as well and it was a terrific book. It took me 13 years to find Bob.
BO: The technology didn’t fully exist. The effects had to be great and wonderful and audiences needed to be hungry for it. They’ve seen so many things that we’ve already seen. This book is very original. And hopefully audiences will be satisfied by the fact that it’s something they haven’t seen before.
Gavin, talking about the advancement of CG, was it something that couldn’t have been made years ago? Is now the right time to make this movie?
Gavin Hood: I’m hesitant to say in the presence of Harrison Ford that something couldn’t be made. [laughter] We’ve reached a point now where special effects are so good that they can be used or abused. You can slap visual effects all over a movie and an audience will go, ‘that’s cool but is there a story in there?’ So what I love about Ender’s Game is that it does have fantastic visual effects, Bob’s absolutely right, we can now render the Battle Room in this fantastic way. But at its heart it’s a story about great characters and great character interaction. So I hope you get fantastic visuals and also the themes and ideas of the book.
Harrison, turning to you, a man whose worked in this genre for many years. You’ve seen CGI grow and change. What are the fundamental differences that you saw working on Ender’s Game that you didn’t see back in the late seventies and early eighties?
Harrison Ford: Well in the ‘olden’ days, we had sort of horse-drawn effects. You put bits together and made a physical prop and you photographed it. Now you can create it in a computer. And that’s basically the difference. And both methods work. The computer graphic perhaps allows you a bit more latitude. But it also allows you, as Gavin mentioned, to exceed human scale. To get beyond and overpopulate the screen in a way that confuses the eye and the emotions.
And I’m convinced by what I’ve seen that we haven’t done that here. One of the great things about science fiction is the bandwidth of imagination that you can use. A realistic film on Earth only has a certain potential but when you get into the future, it broadens. And this book did imagine things like the internet, touch-screen technology, drone warfare, all of which is now a part of our lives, for better or worse. So there’s a lot of wisdom and understanding in the book. Potentially we’ve captured quite a bit of it.
Asa and Hailee, it’s the first venture into sci-fi for you guys. What was it like working with the world of CGI?
Asa Butterfield: It was really exciting. Neither of us had done a film with this level of special effects and CGI. When you’re hanging there, 20 feet off the ground, surrounded by greenscreen and all you’ve got is the other actor and the wonderful Gavin Hood shouting instructions at you as to what’s going on, it’s a really interesting experience. And we honestly couldn’t do it without all of those instructions being shouted out. We had a lot of fun experimenting and Gavin had his pre-viz but nothing could compare to the final image.
Hailee, let’s talk about your character. Talk about your relationships and the journey you go through.
Hailee Steinfeld: When you meet my character Petra, you meet her at a time when she's been in the Battle School for quite a while. When you meet Ender, he’s instantly doubted by everyone in the Battle School because it’s doubtful to the other recruits whether he’ll catch up with everyone else, especially when he’s being touted as the best of the best. And you can assume my character, being one of the very few girls at the Battle School and being the only girl in the Salamander Army, is also doubted by those around her. So when they meet each other, they’re not looking for anything other than a friend. They’re placed into this world where they don’t know who they can trust. They don’t have anybody they can look to so when they meet each other they find that spirit within each other. It’s a really special friendship.
Let’s move onto Sir Ben. You have this incredible look in the film. Are we safe in talking about Ben’s character?
GH: Sir Ben will handle whatever you ask him.
OK let’s talk about the stunning facial tattoo you have in the film.
Ben Kingsley: Well, as Harrison pointed out, it’s a collaboration of the highest order. One strata of actors are there to provoke shape the cadets into serving our plan. As well as being the fictional narrative, that’s also the narrative that’s occurring on the film set. The harder I push Asa, the harder he can push back. If I moderate my performance, I’m underestimating his qualities as an actor. Both Harrison and I pushed him as hard as we could and he gave as good as he got.
My character I would say, although there is ancestral philosophy in the tattoos – it’s all the generations of warriors from the Maori tribes of New Zealand from which he's descended – he is simply a hard-edged, pure, fighting-machine warrior. Almost mythologised for his warrior-hood. Part of the contribution that Harrison and I brought to the younger performances is our estranged lack of tenderness.
So when you do see the tender moments, they’re very moving, because we set the contrast against which the colours of tenderness can shine. So when Hailee’s tender, when Abigail’s tender as her sistser, when Viola Davis is tender as an adult observer, they’re heightened by our job which is distant, brittle, hard and challenging. So when there is tenderness, it’s a relief, you earn that in the film. My role in the film is like a flying spear, just a simple destructive machine. And I wish to pass on my warrior technique by devising tests for the younger team and throwing these tests at them.
We need to talk about the training school and the zero gravity because that’s a stand-out moment. What was that like for you, Asa and Hailee? I imagine they didn’t take you up in the ‘vomit comet?’
AB: Sadly not. But we had quite a few weeks before filming practicing with a Cirque Du Soleil crew on the wires just to get used to it. After that we had an astronaut come in to teach us what it’s like to be in zero gravity. Often it’s stereotyped as being slow and sluggish but in reality it isn’t. we were taught how your body would naturally hang in zero gravity. It was all really interesting. When we finally got up there in our suits, delivering our lines, it was so much fun.
They say a director has one sci-fi movie in them because they’re such hard work. What are the unique challenges of sci-fi?
GH: In terms of sci-fi, I think you’ve all mentioned this, the time in which it takes place is a backdrop to a universal and timeless story. So yes, Ender’s Game is set in the future and I hope we’ve created that beautifully. But at its heart it’s a timeless story. Sir Ben was saying this could take place in Ancient Greece or 100 years in the future.
Humanity is very interesting. We’re constantly evolving yet something about us is very pure. It's why we can both look back and look forward because we haven’t evolved emotionally. We have the same needs, we need love, we get jealous, we get manipulated, all of those human elements happen to you, me and the characters in the movie. So for me, it’s about finding a great story and the environment is hopefully something that’s really cinematic yet a backdrop.