The Odeon Leicester Square in London was surrounded by eager science fiction fans when I approached the cinema for the Ender’s Game Q & A fan event, being held for the MCM London Comic Con. The book (by the controversial Orson Scott Card) has its fans and the crowd were there to see the film’s cast and crew. Stars Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld and Sir Ben Kingsley were in attendance, joined by the film’s director, Gavin Hood and producers Gigi Pritzker and Bob Orci. However, the crowd really turned-out for the one and only Harrison Ford. The laconic Star Wars actor was his usual dry self as he took to the stage to discuss the film with his colleagues. There was a buzz in the air and clear excitement as he took to the stage to discuss the film in the lead-up to its release.
Everyone involved in the film were aware of the difficulties they faced in bringing the beloved novel to the screen, discussing their approach to the material and what attracted them to the project. Here’s what they had to say:
Harrison Ford on the changes in special effects over the years:
In the olden days – and I was there, we had sort of horse-drawn effects. You know, you put bits together and then you 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. Computer graphic perhaps allow you a little bit more latitude. But it also allows you the potential to exceed human scale, to get beyond and overpopulate the screen in a way that confuses the eye and the emotions. And I am convinced by what I’ve seen that we have not done that here. It’s a great aid to imagination and one of the best things about science fiction is the bandwidth of imagination that you can use. I mean, a realistic film on earth only has a certain visual, a certain potential. When you get into the future it broadens – you can imagine things. And this book did imagine, 28 years ago. Things like the internet, touch-screen technology, drone warfare, all of which is now a part of our lives – for better or worse. There’s a lot of wisdom and understanding in the book, potentially – and we’ve captured quite a bit of it.
Bob Orci on when he first read the book:
I read it in seventh grade when I was twelve years old, and I loved that it didn’t talk down to me, I loved that it celebrated intelligence. I loved that it had complicated themes, I loved that it was, you know, it was a good adventure.
Gigi Pritzker on how her 13 year old nephew introduced her to the book when it was first published:
I read it as an adult and I loved that a thirteen-year-old boy and his aunt could sit and talk about those themes and those issues and dig into something. The fact that a book could inspire conversations among generations was terrific to me.
Sir Ben Kingsley on what made him decide to join the cast of Ender’s Game:
I wasn’t aware of it at all until I met Gavin and he came to me at the Four Seasons Hotel and he had his wonderful laptop with him and showed me all the beautiful graphics and talked me through what he intended for the film. I realised that I wasn’t looking at the graphics, I wasn’t listening to what he saw saying – I just thought this is a really unique guy –strong, he’s passionate, he’s a great leader and he has a very broad intelligence and imagination. So his map of the book is what I took as my map of the character and the world that we inhabit. I know Gavin struggled to adapt the book to screen because the novel, by definition, is an internal process and what we had to do is massively externalise what’s going on in people’s minds and imaginations and what they’re struggling with. So my first impression of it – and my lasting impression – will be Gavin’s interpretation of this clearly wonderful book.
Hailee Steinfeld on her character in the film and her relationship to Ender:
When you meet my character, Petra, you meet her at a time when you know she’s been at the Battle School for quite a while and when you meet Ender, he’s instantly shut down. He’s instantly doubted by everybody else at the Battle School because you look at somebody at that point and it’s – ‘how are they going to catch up with us? How’s he nearly going to be as good as us? We’ve been here forever, we’ve worked so hard.’ Especially when he’s coming in, and our mentors are already telling us that he’s the best of the best. And you can assume that my character, being one of very few girls in the Battle School and being the only girl in the Salamander Army – you get quite a bit of that doubt in her too – from all the people around her. So when they meet each other they’re really not looking for anything but a friend. They’re placed into this world where they don’t know who they can trust and who they can’t trust or they don’t really have anybody to look to. So when they meet each other they find that within each other – and it’s a really special friendship.
Asa Butterfield on working with special effects and what attracted him to the film:
It was really exciting, neither of us had done a film with this level of special effects and this level of CGI. When you’re hanging there twenty feet off the ground, surrounded by green screen, 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 unique experience. We honestly couldn’t do it without all of those instructions being shouted out. We had a lot of fun experimenting. Gavin had his ‘pre-vis’ which is what his idea was, about what the film would look like, but nothing could compare to the final image.
I read it just after I got the script and I’m a massive fan of science fiction, so it was right up my street and I loved it as much as I loved the story. For me, not just the character of Ender, but the whole world is so beautifully crafted in the novel that I wasn’t sure how it could be brought to the screen – but Gavin has done it justice and he’s done it amazingly.
Gavin Hood on adapting the book and the difficulties of bringing the film to the screen:
In terms of adapting the book to the screen – it is a very internal journey but also it’s a fantastic sort of spectacle. The Battle Room, which is just a beautiful vision to create something about – the final simulation battle – they were challenging those environments because when you’re sitting there with the book and you read the book, you know that – I hope this doesn’t come across the wrong way – but it’s a black box room. It reads brilliantly in all the battles but suddenly I’ve taken on this job and I was keen, and I got there, and I, oh, boy…now I have to actually decide what it’s going to look like. If it’s a black box – why am I up in space? So you know, inspiration comes from crazy places but I remember thinking, okay, well it’s a huge glass sphere.
I hope you guys will forgive me, and embrace this because here’s the thinking – I’m in space, I need a huge glass sphere so that when you jump out you really feel like you’re in space – you look up and the sun’s there and the earth down below And I took this idea to Gigi and Bob and I was so enthusiastic, and they go – ‘budget, budget, budget. How are we going to do this?’ But they immediately jumped on board and we developed it, with the wonderful concept artists and wonderful production designers – Ben Proctor and Sean Haworth – just built this thing and then we took it out into the world as a 45-second teaser piece. Because the battle room was the first thing we developed – and we took it to Cannes and you know, it wasn’t made by a big studio.
Big studios were, I don’t know, afraid to make this film for many years. They tried, gave up. And so we had to raise the money from places like England, and France and Germany and all over the world.
Ender’s Game opens in the UK on 25 October and in the US on 1st November