There’s always at least one utterly incongruous film that does a presentation at Comic-Con, and this year, it was Snowden‘s turn to be the notably odd one out. Comic-Con movies, whatever the genre, are typically escapist fun, and an Oliver Stone political movie about the famous whistleblower would seem to be anything but.
Still, just as Rock the Kasbah, of all things, brought Bill Murray to Comic-Con for the first time, any excuse to get Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a guest is fine by me. And when Stone decided to make Pokémon the enemy, well, it was pure gold. But we’ll get to that.
It was Stone who was the guest of importance. We began with a highlight reel that started with just soundbites, moving on to footage of movies he directed and some he just wrote, like Scarface, and various movies and TV shows that have aped or parodied his work, from Family Guy to The Cable Guy (Carrey, not Larry). Then the man himself came out to loud applause from a half-full Hall H.
Stone was introduced by Dave Karger, who asked if the Snowden story was the ultimate conspiracy. Stone replied “I hope not.” He noted there is a fair bit of dramatization, because there are many things we just don’t know about Edward Snowden. Snowden and Stone met in Moscow in 2014, and his Russian lawyer had written a fictionalized version of the story as a thriller, which Stone bought the rights to.
“A nightmare of complications,” is how Stone describes the screenplay–how to simplify, keep it interesting, and not leave anything major out. At the age of 29, the director says, he can’t imagine having done anything as bold as Snowden did.
Karger: “Why was it so hard to get funded?” Stone: “You tell me, Dave.”
Stone believes it was self-censorship by the studios. He doesn’t think the NSA was responsible, but all the major studios said no. Advance foreign sales made it happen.
The new trailer was shown, which makes the movie look like a ’70s political thriller (yes, more so than The Winter Soldier) as directed by Michael Bay. Big sweeping shots, dazzling digital displays, time-lapse clouds, Rhys Ifans in a hilarious wig, JGL looking like himself but totally nailing Snowden’s voice, and one of those slow, choral covers of famous songs that all trailers have now – in this case :When the Saints Go Marching in.” And you can watch it right now, if you like:
Zachary Quinto, Shailene Woodley, and JGL were introduced. Gordon-Levitt was wearing an American flag shirt, and called Stone “one of the most patriotic directors in the history of American cinema.”
Woodley is asked if her political activism inspired her to do the movie, and she responded that she wasn’t very political before this election, though she said Snowden’s bravery, whether you agree with it or not, was inspiring, and it opened her eyes to policy in a way they hadn’t been before.
Quinto is playing Glenn Greenwald, whom he calls “relentlessly committed to advocacy journalism in such a pure way,” and that playing him raised the bar for him on wanting to be more aware of what’s going on in the world.
The film was shot internationally and not in the U.S. Stone makes clear that he does not suspect the NSA was intervening, but that the way things are, how can you tell? So that’s why he shot overseas in Germany which had a friendly climate. Says the world is so like 1984, people now are afraid to go to their favorite porn sites. JGL says it’s really important for him to be able to talk out loud sometimes and know that nobody’s listening. “We are promised privacy in the Constitution,” he said, in a definitive statement that is almost certainly going to be subject to debate,
Quinto had met Glenn Greenwald before, briefly – the rest of his research was based on the many videos and TV shows out there. Says he wants to go to Brazil and hang out with him down there, but has not yet.
Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsay Mills is the first real-life person Woodley has played, and she based a lot of her research on social media. She met the real Mills afterwards, and wished she had before, noticing all kinds of mannerisms she would have liked to use.
When Snowden met JGL, he asked if his art collective is pronounced “hit RECord” or “hit reCORD”? (Answer: “It’s both, dude!”) JGL describes Snowden as an “old-fashioned gentleman…and an optimist.” He thinks technology can improve democracy and the state of the human race. JGL was relieved to find he was humble.
Karger said he learned from the film about Snowden’s epilepsy. Stone thinks it was crucial, and notes that without Lindsay, Snowden has no friends, which is part of what drove him.
Karger thinks this film will speak more clearly to a younger generation than any previous Stone film. Stone says with young people, “You learn as you go.”
JGL donated his acting fee to the ACLU, and artists at the HitRecord site making videos in collaboration with the ACLU.
Quinto tried to tie things together, saying the people here at Comic-Con are the essence of the movie, with our cell phones and technology, and it’s good to reflect it back and help people understand the world we’re all living in.
Asked about politics and viewpoints, Quinto and Woodley both said the movie reinforced politics they already had; JGL wasn’t very familiar with Snowden as he’d been very busy working when the real guy was making headlines. But when you take the time to look into any political story, he says, it always becomes more complicated, and he encourages everyone to do that. “Don’t just take someone’s word for it.” He urged people to watch the movie and look into it further for themselves. Quinto echoed that people should go into the details, and it galvanized his belief that what Snowden did was important. Stone thinks the movie represents the government’s position as well, “though maybe not to their satisfaction.” He doesn’t think the film takes sides; points out that government has a good argument that they need to be ready for cyber-warfare. Snowden himself thinks people will come around slowly to his point of view; Quinto adds that none of the programs exposed can be proven to have prevented anything.
All four panelists agree Snowden was a patriot and a hero, not a traitor.
Audience question about Manuel Noriega and “the Coca-Cola bombings.” Stone doesn’t recognize that term, but says he knows Noriega, and his story’s complicated. It might be just as well, he says, not to make a movie about him.
Snowden is Stone’s first narrative feature on digital (it does not look it in the trailer). He thinks it’s not quite as good as film, but it’s good enough. You don’t save much money, but it does make some things easier.
It took three meetings with Snowden to convince Stone to make it. Controversy and real-life families are always headaches (especially, he hinted, with The Doors). He joked that “maybe Shailene will give me a job” on her next rom-com.
And then the question was asked about Pokémon Go, and how that compromises security. Quinto replied about how he made a joke about it being a bad idea and keeping us from connecting, but he got flooded with responses telling him it helps people interact and go outside more. Still, he prefers looking up from his screen. Stone then unleashed the floodgates to insist that it’s not funny–it is in fact a new level of invasion of privacy in search of profits. Corporations are data-mining you to learn your behavior and habits, he said – it’s surveillance capitalism, which gets everywhere in the world. It’s going to make a robot society in the end where your reactions are predicted, and that’ll be a form of totalitarianism. That’s the Stone we know and…love?
A long question about limited government came from a guy cosplaying as a member of NSA security program Prism. Quinto: “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the question. I was playing Pokémon Go.” Bottom line: everyone on the panel agrees Ben Franklin was right about not limiting liberty in favor of security. Woodley says Native Americans who’ve been betrayed by treaties could say “Told you so!”
Karger wrapped it all up by thanking the panelists for making everybody think today. I think I’ll go catch some Pokemon.
Here’s the science and math of Pokémon Go!
Image: Open Road