Hood insists that's not the case -- that his film is very much his own creation, and not bound by the oft-rigid formulas ascribed to movies starring teenagers. Hood is a gregarious, animated talker, and if "Ender's Game" has half as much energy as he does, then we're all in for a wonderful sci-fi treat.
Moviefone Canada spoke with Hood on a quick stop in Toronto in the summer. He chatted with us about how "Ender's Game" differs from "Hunger Games," and how he managed to make a deep, thematic film without sacrificing its big-screen blockbuster appeal.
Moviefone: Are you contemplating this film as a stand-alone, or will there be an "Ender's" franchise in the future?
Gavin Hood: I'm never capable of talking about a franchise when I'm trying to get a movie out. There will be no franchise if this movie doesn't do well, and my focus is always on making the best movie I can. If it triggers a franchise, that'll be great -- there's talk about it. The trouble is, the book sequel to "Ender's Game" only involves Ender peripherally, and introduces an entirely new set of characters. From a film point of view, the studio wants to carry characters forward, so ... I think the sound byte from this is, if the film does well, there will be talk of a sequel. There. [Laughs]
A lot of people are comparing the film to "Hunger Games" -- would you agree that there's anything similar?
I guess there's a parallel in the sense that there are young adults facing obstacles and challenges. I think what drew me to this is it's really focused on a character who isn't perfect. I think the big difference between Ender Wiggin and Katniss Everdeen is ... "Ender's Game" is not a story in which an otherwise good person is compelled to set the world right after being wronged. I would like to separate "Ender's Game" from "Hunger Games" on that basis.
A lot of people struggle with that. The people who love this book love it, as do I. The character of this boy is essentially torn between his capacity for violence and his equal-but-opposite capacity for compassion and kindness. This is helped, thematically, by his having a very compassionate sister and a very violent older brother. Which one is Ender? "Ender's Game" is an interesting, morally complex film, wrapped in a big popcorn movie setting.
So it has the pop appeal, but also thematic heaviness?
It offers what any big film must in order to draw people away from their TVs and into the cinema. The reason to go to see this on the big screen is because you need to experience this incredible battle room we've created, these space battles, the zero gravity. It's the most awesome wish-fulfillment moment you can imagine: jumping out into zero-G and float around and play laser tag. This is so cool! It also has as its core a fascinating character study about a young kid who's capable of excessive violence. His journey is to discover: what is my true nature? And if my true nature is leaning that way, how do I pull it back? I'm very bored with films about good vs. evil, or "an evil person attacks me and I'm good, and therefore I can do no wrong" movies. That's such a dangerous philosophy. "Ender's Game" is about the deeper issue: even though I feel right, do I have the capacity to cross a line?
Aesthetically, how did you approach "Ender's Game"? When I think of movies like this, I think of "Tron" and "Logan's Run."
"Tron" is more monochromatic; I'm trying to add with ambers, and the blues and greens of Earth. It's a really restrained palate -- the uniforms have strong primary colours -- but I didn't want it to just be sci-fi blue. I said to the design team, we're not going up into space to be in a black room. We have to create a glass dome. They were worried about costs, so I said I'd rather trim down the number of battle room scenes (I originally had five, now there are four), and do them really well. The Rat Army scene went because I didn't have the budget to do it. I tried to vary it up in terms of colour and lighting every time.
Was it hard to convey such a complicated story while still pleasing the powers that be?
It's still a big action movie. It has to be, or else the studio wouldn't make it, and that's why it hasn't been made for years. The studios were trying to make just the big action version, without any of the other stuff.
This is a very atypical movie for the genre, then.
I have young kids, and I see how much stuff they consume -- and I want them to have deep, meaningful conversations. None of that simple good/evil paradigm. I was drafted into the [South African] military at age 17 and I lost a friend, it was very traumatic. I also formed extremely close friendships with people, it was all so confusing. After my friend died, I was very angry. There are moments in this movie where Ender is disgusted with himself about decisions he makes. That's not a theme that's traditionally in big popcorn movies.
There's another trend in movies right now: At the very end, there's a tacked-on explanatory scene...
Dude. That's what's happening. I know what you're talking about. It's a very political system. Everyone's been raised with this mentality that you can't walk out of the cinema confused. If I give you a total, complete ending, you don't have to debate what you think the ending should be. Then there's no conversation. You get, "Wow, that was cool." I'm always leaning towards making my endings a bit cryptic.
"Ender's Game" opens in theatres on November 1.
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