TORONTO - These days, movies for teens tend to revel in dichotomies — the black-and-white simplicity of good versus evil.
With "Ender's Game," the hotly anticipated adaptation of the seminal sci-fi novel, director Gavin Hood is excited by the opportunity to explore the moral greys.
"Some films masquerade as dealing with moral complexity, but in fact, for me, cop out a little by never putting the protagonist in a truly morally complex situation," Hood said in a recent interview at the pop culture fest known as Fan Expo Canada. "There are films we can think of where, yes, the protagonist kills people, but actually all the people they kill are bad or awful in some way, (without) that moment of really having to face up to the grey zone, that place where you ask, 'Am I capable of doing something morally repugnant because I believe it's for a greater good?'
"I think that young people are far smarter than we give them credit for, they're capable of really intense conversation. ... At the heart of it, ('Ender's Game') is a powerful character-driven story about a complicated character who's not necessarily likable all the time, and that's a tricky thing for a mainstream movie."
"Ender's Game" tells the story of a boy named Ender Wiggin who shows prodigious military gifts and is thrust into an intense training program to command fleets and combat a potential alien threat against a diminished, futuristic Earth. After years of scrapped screenplays, the film version finally got underway in 2009 but only landed a distribution deal in 2011.
"As much as people were drawn to the complex themes, they also feared them," Hood says. "It's an interesting challenge bringing the book to the screen."
Hood signed on to the project in 2010 to direct and write the script, drawn by the challenge of adapting a book that develops its characters through internal monologues and takes place in the zero-gravity frontier of space. "Ender's Game" author Orson Scott Card even once referred to his work as "unfilmable."
"I think I was a little naive myself," Hood says. "As a filmmaker, it offers tremendous opportunity for visual spectacle. ... And I have young kids, and I want to take them to a big fun movie and then talk to them about it afterwards. I want to encourage conversation. Great. Of course, then I start adapting it, and it took me two years."
The book's iconic nature has also provided a new level of pressure for the film. While Hood has some experience with hype, bringing "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" to big screens for a rabid comic-book fan base, that's nothing compared to the anticipation for "Ender's Game," which has been celebrated since its 1985 publication for its honest take on military life and its premonitory take on drone warfare. He admits that even now, with the film complete, he's still feeling the pressure, and that his difficult decision to cut one major story line — a prescient one about the political impact of blogging — will make some readers "very mad."
"My wife actually says to me, 'Gavin, you have to stop going on the Internet. It makes you crazy.' There's so much chatter," says Hood. "I found it hard to cut. But it really means you need to make a 15-part miniseries, and I was given the opportunity to make a two-hour film, so my focus was, 'What can I do in a film that the novel might not be able to do as well?'"
Hood has faced other challenges as well. The film has met with some controversy as a result of Card's anti-gay views and some have proposed boycotts.
But Hood, echoing other cast member statements as well as Lions Gate studio, disavows the author's beliefs, adding that Card was not involved in the movie beyond a lunch meeting and set visit early in filming, and that the screenplay was entirely his.
"I'll say it now: I fundamentally disagree with him on the issue of gay marriage, and that's awkward obviously, because I love his book," Hood says. "But the ideas and the themes of the book are not about gay marriage — or ironically, they are, in the sense that they're about compassion and kindness and tolerance, so I do find it hard to understand his position on gay marriage."
The film — which features "Hugo" star Asa Butterfield alongside Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley and Viola Davis — is set to open in Canadian theatres Nov. 1.
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