It's admittedly odd to be discussing an author's bigoted comments about a subject as important as gay marriage while people dressed as stormtroopers pass by on the street. But, yes. this is San Diego Comic-Con and, yes, we're talking about "Ender's Game."
To their credit, director Gavin Hood and co-producer Bob Orci (the "Star Trek Into Darkness" co-writer who is an outspoken guy himself on a host of other issues) have a good attitude about the whole "Orson Scott Card problem." (It is a problem: Card's homophobic rants against gay marriage have spawned boycott movements against the film, and studio Lionsgate -- which is releasing the film through Summit Entertainment -- has distanced itself from Card.) This is not exactly the sort of press you want when trying to launch an expensive new Harrison Ford-starring sci-fi franchise, but as both Hood and Orci explain here, they've found a silver lining about the whole controversy.
"Ender's Game" is the story of Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a young boy who is taken from his family and trained by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) as a soldier in preparation for a third war with an alien species called Formics. Here, the two filmmakers explain the trials of adapting Card's 1985 novel -- and as a military draftee himself, Hood has his own fascinating connection with the story -- and the tribulations of adapting Card's controversial views for a hopeful blockbuster franchise.
Why did "Ender's Game" take so long to be adapted to film?
Orci: I think there's fear from a lot of the places that had the book before. You have a young protagonist with adult themes; you have a mix of complicated stuff and also adventure. So, tonally, that's part of it. Also, the book required a lot of technology to realize it correctly. So I think the risk of the themes and the fact that it was going to be vey expensive without the proper technology to make it look good scared some people off. Finally, no one ever really cracked the script. And Gavin finally cracked the script when he chose to try and adapt this. He's had experience adapting novels before, so I think that's part of the advantage that he had. And it all finally came together.
Could this have been a hit movie in, say, 1986?
Hood: It's hard to say. Maybe there was a filmmaker who could have come up with something brilliant? Could we have done it? Probably.
Are there scenes that couldn't have been shot in 1986?
Orci: That's what I thought when I read it. I thought, Huh, I wonder if this is ever going to get made? And then when I got lucky enough to get gigs in this business, I found out, "Oh, someone is trying to make it. Goodness gracious, let's see what happens to it." I always understood the difficulty.
Does the story work better in 2013? Is it more relevant now?
Hood: I think it's timeless. It worked then, it works now, and that's why it's a classic. A classic is something that goes beyond it's time, really, right? It's universal. You could watch this film, I hope, in 20 years time. The core themes in this book -- the search for identity, the search for leadership of yourself as well as others, how to resolve all these conflicting things in your own nature and your capacity for kindness and your capacity for violence -- those are timeless themes. They've been around. They were in "Lord of the Flies"; they're in "Ender's Game." What's great about this is here you have an opportunity to explore those classic, timeless themes in a really unique and beautiful environment. And now we have the technology to fully realize those battle room sequences and simulation sequences in a very beautiful way. Who knows? Maybe in 20 years someone will look back and go, "That was hokey to look at, look what we can do now!" You know?
I say this selfishly, but I'm really happy Harrison Ford is in a sci-fi movie. I think it would be nice for him to have a new franchise.
Orci: Yeah! We do, too! Believe us. I want your dream to be realized [laughs]. How can you help us?
I know you worked with him on "Cowboys & Aliens," but that movie didn't do as well as expected.
Orci: When Harrison read the script, he said, "I've been involved with sci-fi and I've read a lot of sci-fi. And it's rare that I read something sci-fi that's actually about something or makes me feel something that's emotional." He was impressed with the material. Because of the fact that he is one of our truly living legend icon, he does bring an experience to Graff -- in a way that you believe he has experienced "Star Wars." And that is relevant for training a young protagonist who can potentially follow in his footsteps in defending our planet. So he brings -- without even having to say a word -- a story on his own in a way that can refelct on the film. And we're not relying on that, he just happened to be the best actor for that gig and we were lucky to get him.
Bob Orci just came off of "Star Trek Into Darkness," which is a tough fanbase to please ...
And you didn't please everyone. How does the "Ender's Game" fanbase differ from "Star Trek"?
Hood: I think we're going to find out. The truth is, "Star Trek" has been around for awhile. The "Ender's Game" book has been around for a long time, but this is the first movie of the book. And I am quite sure there will be people who will absolutely love what we've done and there are going to be certain people who go, "Why did you do it like that?" We think we'e read a book and we think we've seen it absolutely as the author intended. But everything is filtered through our own life experiences. It's very interesting the way Bob and I come to this story from completely different places.
Orci: I was 11 years old and I was a geeky kid back when geeky was not a good thing. And the book celebrates intelligence and being empowered through intelligence. So, I read it as a kid in the safety of my own home and totally relating to it. And Gavin read it as an adult.
Hood: I read it as an adult. Having been drafted into the [South African] military and been yelled and screamed at by crazy sergeants and taken far away from my parents and wondering what are the values I'm supposed to believe. And being told that if I'm really crazy and violent, that's how we do things. It's very confusing. And I'm sure it messed me up for a long time and it probably did. I know it did! I went to a lot of counseling and I will probably need a lot more. You go through this stuff and it's very strange to be extracted from your home the way Ender is and sent into a world where your in competition with everyone around you and encouraged to choose violence to win. So, I related to it in that way. And, so, everybody who reads this book and loves it -- and so many people do -- it's touching them in some way.
Orci: And they are all equally skeptical. They're all equally skeptical with their favorite and I'll always "screw it up."
The author of "Ender's Game," Orson Scott Card, released another statement recently about gay marriage. I know you've commented that the movie should be taken at what's on the screen and not what he says, but that was before this latest statement. Bob Orci, you're a famously outspoken guy, but, from your perspective, is this a "you might think you're helping, but you're not helping"-type situation with him?
Hood: But we can't control-- like, we have no right to tell him what he should or shouldn't say. I don't know, Bob and I -- we hold the opposite view. I do not agree with Orson Scott Card's position on gay marriage. But, I love "Ender's Game" the book. And that's something that one has to reconcile in one's own head. That's really our position.
Orci: At first, as you're saying, we were, "Yes, this is a difficulty." We've come to embrace the fact that this actually gets to be a conversation. And we actually get to sit here and say that we support human rights and we support what's going on in this country right now and that it's trending in the right direction. And without this conversation, we wouldn't be able to say that. We wouldn't be talking about that. And the book is about tolerance and understanding differences and bullying. And, so, it's actually turned out to be oddly relevant to the book and it turns out that the book itself is the biggest advocate of the position.
Hood: And that's the beautiful thing. Frequently artists create something that is better and more insightful than their own particular point of view on some issue. We have a great piece of art and we have the artist behind that art saying things that seem to be extremely bigoted. But they're not the book. The book is the book and Orson's views are his views.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.