Looking hard for new youth-oriented franchises to line up alongside The Hunger Games, Summit Entertainment gave the Comic-Con crowd in Hall H a peek at two aspirants to be franchises in Divergent and Ender’s Game.
Even though it went second today, I will focus first on Ender’s Game, the Gavin Hood-directed adaptation of the Orson Scott Card novel series about the attempt to find youthful prodigies with the gunner skills to save humanity from invading aliens. The film has gotten recent unwanted exposure because of the personal views the author has expressed against same-sex marriage, prompting distributor Summit to disavow attitudes that have nothing to do with the film.
While the film company might have preferred the issue not come up — the author was conspicuously absent — there was no such luck. When the panelists fielded questions, the first one was to ask how the makers of the film are dealing with the Card controversy. Producer Roberto Orci said they stood behind Summit and Lionsgate’s statement supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and that he would hate to see the fortunes of the movie discounted, given its themes of tolerance and empathy. “Rather than shy away from this, I would reiterate that we support LGBT rights, and human rights,” Orci said.The crowd was understandably sparked by the appearance of geek icon Harrison Ford. Despite his work in Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, Ford had been to Comic-Con only once before, for Cowboys & Aliens in 2010. He came out to rousing applause, immediately followed by an exclusive clip of Ender’s Game, which bows November 1. The clip focused on Hugo star Asa Butterfield as the title character, and the scenes showed him developing cerebral skills to wage war in a way that seems a mix of video gamesmanship and a dose of The Force from Star Wars. It makes him the scourge of the invading aliens, and the footage of space craft fighting drew a strong response from the room. Ford was joined onstage by Orci, Hood and Hailee Steinfeld (there was a placard for Abigail Breslin, but she was absent due to illness). Ford said he was drawn to the complex moral military issues inherent in the ability to wage wars removed from the battlefield. What was a fantasy when the book was published 28 years ago has become a reality with the advent of drone warfare.
The warmup for the Hall H crowd was Divergent, the Neil Burger-directed adaptation of Veronica Roth’s best-selling series that opens March 24 and stars Shailene Woodley, Theo James and Kate Winslet. The panel opened with the director, author and stars trying to explain the somewhat confusing mythology of a youth population segregated into one of five groups, based on genetic traits. Burger said they wrapped production only two days ago, and then he showed an exclusive teaser clip that showed the Dauntless faction. The group engaged in a lot of jumping, fighting and knife throwing, drawing some immediate parallels to the Hunger Games district factions.
There was a glimpse of Winslet, but it’s clear this franchise rides on concept and the chemistry between The Descendants’ up and comer Woodley and hunky British newcomer James. Co-stars Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Zoey Kravitz, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Ben Lamb, Christian Madsen and Amy Newbold also took the stage. What became apparent in their nervous banter is how difficult it can be to vamp a new movie series with source material and stars that aren’t that familiar to the Comic-Con crowd. It seems that will be Summit’s marketing challenge here. Do the kids have special powers? Are they out to kill each other? A lot of questions went unanswered.