London Crawling

‘Mortal Engines’, Brought To You By The Guy Who Brought You The Guy

I read a while back that Peter Jackson’s next big book-to-screen adaptation was going to be Naomi Novik’s Her Majesty’s Dragon. Novik’s books are about dragons fighting on the side of the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars. Cool! Better still, the books are a favorite among discerning fantasy readers because Novik took the time to make her two protagonists, a talking dragon and the British guy who rides him into battle, actual interesting characters whose friendship forms the core of the series. Depth!

We did not get those movies. Instead, Peter Jackson gave us Mortal Engines.

Mortal Engines is not so much a “movie” as it is a live-action version of a flip-it cartoon that a bored 9th-grade videogamer might scrawl onto the margins of his notebook pages during a particularly mind-numbing lecture about the Industrial Revolution. In a post-apocalyptic steampunk far future–please click on the word “steampunk” if you don’t know what that is, because trying to explain it is exhausting–entire cities mounted on tank treads go rolling through the English countryside, crushing large swaths of land and fighting each other. The big ones swallow up the little ones, and London, as usual, is the biggest and most important.

This all happens in the movie’s first 15 or so minutes. It’s very loud, but pretty cool. I enjoyed that part. It would’ve made a fine short film. But then there is an hour and forty-five minutes of very loud but not very good movie left.

MORTAL ENGINES ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Christian Rivers
Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philipa Boyens, based on the novel by Philip Reeve
Starring: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving
Running time:
128 min.


I do need to point out that this is and is not a Peter Jackson Film. A good sign that you’re about to watch a not-good movie is that the movie will be From The People Who Brought You or From The Mind(s) Of or–and this is when you really enter the danger zone–From One Of The Producers Of. The poster for Mortal Engines tells you that it’s “FROM THE FILMMAKERS OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS AND THE HOBBIT”. That teaser poster oddly leaves off the giant tank-towns, which are the only reason to see Mortal Engines.

On assignment for BuzzFeed

Jackson didn’t direct the movie. He handed that assignment to one of his special effects guys, Christian Rivers. Jackson did, however, co-write the screenplay along with his usual team, Fran Walsh and Philipa Boyens. I’ve not seen a written copy of the screenplay, but based on what was on the screen for the hour and forty-five minutes that followed the cool opening scene, I assume it’s things like “Heroine looks determined”, “Heroine/hero looks determined, wraps scarf around face”, “Heroine/hero removes scarf, looks resolved”, and “Hugo Weaving resumes hugoweaving”. Hugo Weaving has played the same sneering megalomaniacal villain so often that hugoweaving is now a verb.

I should also point out that Mortal Engines was based on a 2002 YA Dystopian novel by Philip Reeve. The book has three sequels, and three prequels, if you’re interested in reading more stuff about giant rolling municipalities that eat one another. I’m not sure I’d count on any of those books being made into movies. If you do want to see a movie about a large crawling multi-family dwelling, I’d go with Howl’s Moving Castle.

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Jason Avant

Jason Avant is a writer and editor based in Carlsbad, California. He’s written for and edited a bunch of websites that no longer exist, and occasionally contributes to one that does: Roads and Kingdoms.

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