I’ve been waiting since November to talk to Gavin Hood about Ender’s Game. I saw the film adaptation in theaters but was not covering the press junket, so when the DVD and Blu-ray release came around I was fully prepared with questions for the writer/director. Hood adapted the Orson Scott Card novel about a young military genius training in Battle School to lead humanity in the next war against the Formics. I spoke with Hood about the film’s production history, themes and sequel potential, as well as a question about the legacy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
CraveOnline: I have been waiting for an Ender’s Game movie for a long time. When you got on the project, were you aware of any of the work Wolfgang Petersen had done?
Gavin Hood: I was aware of his work and I knew that he’d been working on Ender’s Game, yes. I wasn’t able to read the scripts or anything because they were owned by Warner Bros. So when I was hired, Warner Bros. had just given up their option on the project. Gigi Pritzker had optioned the book, Gigi Pritzker at OddLot, which is obviously a much smaller outfit than Warner Bros. They were looking for a writer to do an adaptation and I loved the book Ender’s Game. My agent said, “Well, guess what. Warner Bros. has let it go, it’s gone somewhere else and they want to start over. They’re looking for a writer and they’re interviewing people. Do you want to go?” So I said, “Yes, please.” And I went along, and I don’t know how many people they interviewed but I’m very thankful that they gave the job to me.
Was it your decision to never refer to the Formics as “Buggers” in the movie?
It was actually a request from Orson Scott Card in his conversation with Gigi Pritzker early on if you can believe that. I think he recognized that the term might mean something that he didn’t realize, that’s what he said, it meant when he wrote the book in 1985.
The Mind Game must have been big science fiction in the ‘80s but now we really do have games like that. How did you conceive of the Mind Game?
Exactly. You raise a great question. When we were designing the movie, you know now games can be really photoreal. We’re using visual effects technology and some incredible visual effects artists to create the battle room and all these simulation cave battles at the end that are hyper realistic video games. So the question was, what do you do with the video game, the Mind Game? My reason for doing it in a more painterly way was because I needed it to stand out from the real games, if I can use such a term, that were being played by Ender in the simulation cave in the third act of the film.
So it seems to me that because we can now render games photorealistically, there are also a lot of games that are artistically fun. I’m talking about even simple games like Angry Birds or Cut the Rope. These are reverting to animation and lovely drawings and art. Just because you can render a game as photorealistic doesn’t mean that that makes it entertaining, so we thought we should do the Mind Game in a more painterly way. As you play the game, the computer is keeping up with painting the images. It was really just to stand out separately from the rest of the movie, which turns out to be a game.
Even as far as the game learning from the player, we have games that adapt to the player now.
Yes, exactly and I think that’s what’s extraordinary about what Orson Scott Card did. He foresaw all these things and he foresaw the iPad. He foresaw drone warfare quite frankly, and that kind of game.
Was it a fight to keep all the strategy and philosophy in the movie? Were there any notes that wanted to make it more of a straight battle movie?
Yeah, and since we’re talking about the DVD release, one of the things I’m excited for people to be able to see on the Blu-ray and on the DVD, although there’s more on the Blu-ray, is deleted scenes. There’s a couple of scenes in particular you will remember if you know the book well, a kind of debate that happens between Ender and a character called Mick, and then of course between Ender and Dink on the theme of leadership and taking responsibility or not for being in Battle School. Those scenes are on the DVD and I was sad to see them cut out of the movie. They were in my original cut, so I’m excited that there is some additional footage for people who perhaps feel the film is a little short, to see on the DVD. I was able to put some of those scenes onto the DVD.
Obviously there are other scenes that in order for them to be completed would have required a massive amount of expenditure on visual effects and unfortunately for us, we weren’t able to do that because, as you probably know, during post-production, the holding company of Digital Domain went bankrupt and I had to cut $15 million of effects from my film. That was painful, so yes, I think the film really works and we found a way to do it with the resources that we had very effectively. Personally, I could have had another 20 minutes so I’m excited for folks who see the Blu-ray or the DVD to see some of the things that unfortunately had to be cut from the movie.