Comic-Con 2013: ‘Ender’s Game’ and ‘Divergent’ Panels Debut Footage and a Grumpy Harrison Ford
Thursday, Jul. 18 on Comic-Con 2013's bustling Hall H stage was home to two highlights from the young-adult movie genre's upcoming slate. Summit Entertainment, the studio behind 'The Twilight Saga,' kicked things off with panel presentations for 'Ender's Game' and 'Divergent,' both bringing with them a slew of guests and tons of updates, including the first footage from 'Divergent.'
Moderating the Summit panel was Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick, which alone brought on cheers. “You guys waited, and now you shall be rewarded.” The first round of names to come out were Veronica Roth, Neil Burger, Shailene Woodley and Theo James, having finished shooting two days prior to the panel presentation.
As Burger says, 'Divergent' takes place some 100 years ahead in a futuristic Chicago. There’s been some kind of war/cataclysm and the world is much smaller. As Veronica continues, five factions are formed, each dedicated to cultivating different virtues. Everyone in the city has to fit into one of those five groups.
The selection process “is like a graduation ceremony,” says Burger. The characters are placed in a “psychological dream state” in which they’re each tested, and their performances determine which faction they’ll belong to.
Tris starts in the Abnegation (selfless) faction, but she chooses to go to Dauntless (brave), which ultimately “closes the door on her family.” These firm commitments are what keep the society in balance.
Now for the footage, which is “all very fresh,” as Burger put it, being, again, that they finished shooting a couple days ago:
A group of Dauntless hopefuls, including Shailene Woodley’s Tris, are being tested – running through an industrial-looking Chicago, up metal columns, onto a moving train, from the train to a building, and then taking a leap of faith (so to speak) into a pit. Of course, Tris is the first one to volunteer to take the plunge. From there, the footage shifts in between shots of Woodley and Theo James swooning over each other, and the faction's training regime and stunts. It was, as Burger called it later on, “Dauntless stuff” that perplexed the director and made him really question how to bring these physically demanding moments to life.
Following the footage presentation, Veronica Roth dropped a small update that’ll only appeal to fans of the books -- her third installment in the 'Divergent' series will be written from two perspectives, Tris and Four’s. So … there’s that.
But back to the movie, Woodley described her character as “a very normal girl … I never saw her as a superhero, as an action star. I saw her as a very normal young woman who has to figure stuff out … She’s put in very elevated situations” and she rises to those situations.
While that’s great and all, the crowd (or at least Hardwick) swooned over the devilishly handsome English actor, Theo James. “Honestly, just listening to your accent, half the audience just got pregnant,” said Hardwick.
As James described Four, Tris’ love interest and Dauntless mentor, “He is quite old-school. He’s a man with a very centered sense of masculinity.” For one, he notes, when the pair climb up on top of the Ferris wheel -- which apparently those who’ve read the book are familiar with -- he doesn’t shy away from his fear of heights. “Everyone’s afraid of something,” he said. “Bravery is not about being fearless, it’s how you act in the face of fear. … That’s what defines you."
Following that thematic statement, a bevy of supporting cast members, including Ansel Englort, Zoe Kravitz, Maggie Q and Miles Teller, hit the stage. And for most, it was their first time at Comic-Con.
But for Englort, he was also excited to have worked with Woodley. “It was amazing. Definitely the best experience of my life. And I look forward to doing the sequels,” he suggested. “And you said it at Comic-Con, so it has to happen,” chimed in Hardwick.
As the cast recollected, their initial meeting was on generally good terms, but they all ended up bonding through the lengthy two weeks of combat training, including various forms of martial arts, hand-to-hand combat, knife throwing and gun fighting.
What was so great for Woodley, stunts aside, was one scene in particular: the "Dining Room" scene, in which the Dauntless faction celebrates the new initiates. “There was so much energy in the room, that night,” she says. “How often do you get to crowd surf for 45 minutes straight?”
As Roth self-proclaimed, “When I write, I don’t have the most detailed mind … I’m kinda squinting and looking at things in a very blurry way,” which was where Burger stepped in to offer that detailed eye in bringing scenes, like the celebratory crowd surfing, to life. "We worked our asses off to make something you'll all be proud of," he said.
They must have because James, still feeling the exhaustion of long production hours, "went to Vegas the other day … I read books, went to museums, stuff like that," he joked.
As far as the Q&A with the fans following the panel, few questions stood out. In fact, there were no immediate takers of the mic. “Really?” said Hardwick. “Someone’s not a Dauntless.” But the most memorable by far was the fan who came and said to the ‘Divergent’ cast, “I love ‘Enders Game.’ Loved reading it …”
So on that note …
Producer Bob Orci and director Gavin Hood took the stage next, understandably excited as Gavin has never been to Comic-Con before. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said, once Orci had whipped out his phone to record everything from the stage.
Stars Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld and Harrison Ford, the latter looking the most annoyed, joined them shortly after. Then, the lights dimmed and the new ‘Ender’s Game’ Comic-Con trailer kicked off:
The footage featured more action than ever before, from a more detailed depiction of the previous alien invasion, which devastated the Earth, to more starfleet battles in space. Of course, it was all accompanied by inspiring phrases, like, “You alone can understand the enemy,” and, “You alone can save mankind.”
“You want to be true to the book,” said Orci, but at the same time, he says, you want to take what you loved and make it into something for the screen. “People will love the film based on its merits and not what happened before."
The search for Hood's Ender took a while because, as the director said, “you can’t fake intelligence. … You [Butterfield] are quite smart.” “Me and Gavin talked a lot prior to shooting about where to take the character,” said Butterfield on his leading role.
“This was the first time I had to physically train for a film,” chimed in Steinfeld, who plays Petra in the film. “We had about three weeks of training. We went to space camp in Alabama, we went through boot camp, a military boot camp,” the latter of which taught them how to properly salute, march and various other soldier basics.
Then, of course, there’s Ford’s character, Colonel Hyrum Gaff. Though Hardwick introduced him as Ender’s mentor, Ford sees him more as Ender’s manipulator. “I was drawn to the complexity of the moral issues here. The complex moral issues involved in the military … the ability to wage war, removed from the battlefield. This was unknown 28 years ago, but the manipulation of young people for their … conceptual freedom, motor skills, was something really complex and interesting to me,” he said in the most un-interested tone of all time, which only made the crowd chuckle more.
“I love the book for two principle reasons,” said Hood, which were the environment and the story. “This is not a simple story of good and evil. Visual effects don’t do it for us unless there’s a great story, and this is a great story. To have characters that are not ‘simple’ … having the characteristics of Asa, Hailee and Harrison on a good day, and when he’s not having a good day you bring in Ben Kingsley and he makes it a good day.”
The future success of 'Ender's Game' has been called into question, due to the recent controversy over the original author's (Orson Scott Card) views on gay rights. Card is an out and proud anti-gay supporter, and its because of his views and written work on the subject that prompted Geeks OUT to organize a boycott of the film adaptation. Since then, Lionsgate has released a statement in support of the LGBT community, and one fan in the audience asked the panel about their thoughts on the subject.
"Our first reaction was, you never want to invite controversy," replied Orci, "but we decided to use the amount of attention to support Lionsgate Entertainment and support LGBT rights and all human rights." He pointed out how many people worked on this film and many more are still working to distribute the film, and he'd hate to see the film suffer because of one man's opinions. "The message of the book is tolerance, compassion, empathy ... We support LGBT rights and human rights."
As moving as this was for many in the audience, I cannot say this was the highest point of the panel. Ford stole that title through his continuously dull and oh-so-funny "I'm over it" demeanor. This was exacerbated by some misguided fans who came up to the mic with questions like, "If Han Solo and Indiana Jones were to meet, what would their first words be to each other?" Ford's response: "Hi, how are yah?" followed by a b---- stare. Hey, at least it wasn't a 'Star Wars' question!
'Divergent' premieres March 21, 2014, and 'Ender's Game' hits theaters this Nov. 1.