The last sci-fi blockbuster of the year, Ender’s Game, is right around the corner, but don’t be surprised if fans are still skeptical about whether the film has finally escaped development hell. The original novel of the same name is considered a modern classic of sci-fi literature, but the road to the big screen has been tumultuous for Ender’s Game, and its author, Orson Scott Card. Luckily, award-winning writer and director Gavin Hood entered the picture back in 2011, and Ender’s Game at last found someone able to lead it into theatres.
The film stars Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggin, a young military cadet who may represent humanity’s last hope of defeating a rampaging alien menace of the near future. In tow are fellow up-and-comers Abigail Breslin and Hailee Steinfeld, as well as Harrison Ford, Sir Ben Kingsley, and Viola Davis.
At the film’s recent press day, we sat down for an exclusive 1 on 1 chat with Mr. Hood, where he spoke about his relationship with the source material, what he learned from troubled times working on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and taking to the challenge of adapting a seminal sci-fi novel.
Check it out below and enjoy!
Before you got attached to the film, what was your experience with Ender’s Game?
Gavin Hood: I read the book, my agent had sent it to me while it was still with Warner Bros. They had done various drafts, and I think my agent was rather hoping I might have a take on it, that I might pitch to them. I read the book and I got very excited by it. It resonated very strongly with me in ways that I found quite disturbing, in some ways, because it brought back many memories of my time when I was in military. I was drafted when I was 17, and I spent two years, and I lost a friend in war. I was just amazed, you know, “wait a minute, I’m reading a science fiction book and it’s bringing up all these feelings of my time,” and it was many years later.
Anyway, I thought, “wow, this is an opportunity to do a big, spectacular, exciting, big popcorn movie! On the one level, with this battle room, and these fantastic setpieces, but that’s actually also got really great themes and ideas and great characters, and complex characters.” This is not just, “evil attacks the world, and good must triumph!” Ender is not necessarily perfect, he’s most certainly not a perfect person. He’s very flawed. He has a tendency to overreact in ways that are violent, and aggressive. And yet, he has this equal and opposite capacity for great compassion, and I think that’s what’s interesting about us as a species, as human beings: we are capable of great kindness, and great compassion, and we are capable of terrible violence, and terrible aggression.
So to have all this sort of compressed into this character, this one boy, and then watch him struggle with his own nature –but in a spectacular kind of big movie setting- was really exciting. So I was really excited and I wanted to go off and pitch, and my agent said, “well, actually Warner Bros. is abandoning this picture, and they’re probably not going to go ahead, and we don’t know where it’s going to be, so just forget about it. I’m sorry.” Okay.
So, about a year goes by, and I’m called again, I’m looking for something to adapt, and I’m reading a lot of stuff, and my agent says Warner Bros. has let the book go, and the rights have been picked up by an independent company. “Gonna be tight on money, but looks like they want to do it, and they’re looking for a writer and they want to go meet someone.” I pitched my take, and luckily I got the job.
What about your history prepared you for a project of this scale?
GH: Well I think I come from two worlds now. I worked initially in very low-budget independent films that I often wrote. My early work was all written by myself, and then I adapted Tsotsi, so I was used to the writing process being, in a way, integral to my directing. I felt it really prepared me. And then I got hired to do this huge Wolverine movie, which I had not written, and that was, frankly, being rewritten while I was shooting. I had never experienced this kind of crazy corporate way of working. But now I have [laughs].
It was a learning experience?
GH: I learned a lot doing Wolverine, and I was also very fortunate, in the sense that I got to do a huge number of visual effects shots. So I think what happened with Ender’s Game was this combination. Having made independent character-driven pieces, and then having had the experience of making a big visual effects movie, I was now ready. And I really wanted to adapt this work myself, so that I had –let’s just be blunt- a little more creative control over the script than I had had when I did Wolverine, and they allowed me to do that. I think that having the big visual effects experience, plus being able to do the adaptation, plus having worked with actors in more intimate, personal stories really did help me be prepared for this film, which is an interesting combination of big visual effects and spectacle, and intimate character study.