TL;DR – This is a visually impressive film, full of moments that make you go wow, but you can see that they have been held back by fitting the whole first book into the one film
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
The Mortal Engines series is one of those books that I have always been meaning to read but just have never gotten around to it. The idea where cities have become mobile and drive around hunting for prey is one of those conceptional ideas that is just genius, and I have a lot of friends that are super excited to see this world brought to life on the big screen. Add to this the fact that you have the minds behind The Lord of the Rings working to bring this to life and I have to say it definitely piqued my interest. Now that I have seen it, I can say I mostly enjoyed it, even if not everything worked.
So to set the scene, thousands of years in the past the ancients blew up the world in the Sixty Minute War using weapons called MEDUSA. These weapons did not just wipe out cities but fractured the Earth’s crust reforming the continents in its wake. Now centuries later there is this fear that if you stay statically located you will die so cities became mobile, some to the water, others to the sky, but most on giant treads crashing their way across the wastelands looking for other towns and cities to pray on for resources. We open on a small trading group, as Hester (Hera Hilmar) scans the horizon for threats, and boy is there one ever. This is where we meet the great city of London, a real predator in the Great Hunting Grounds, one of the biggest Traction Cities, and it is coming towards the trading post at full speed. As the towns flee in every direction,London homes in on Salzhaken, the mining town Hester had fled too, and soon the town is being drawn into London’s gut to be carved up to power the city. In London, Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) who works in the London Museum is sen tdown to the gut to make sure any artefacts of cultural importance are saved from the flames and gets some help from Katherine Valentine (Leila George) one of the upper class of the society. Down below they run into her father, and head of the Historians Guild Thaddeus (Hugo Weaving) and soon discover that Hester was not captured, she wanted to be caught because she had one mission, to kill Thaddeus, which she almost does before Tom intercedes. After a chase, Hester escapes London through a garbage chute,but not before she tells Tom her name, which he relates to Thaddeus who promptly kicks him off London as well, to keep the secret.
One of the things that you instantly see is just how much work has gone into creating the world both practically and digitally. The design of London is simply spectacular, though the team has experience bringing tiered cities to life. As that camera pans up across the city you see it in all its glory, with all these landmarks and architectural touchstones incorporated into the design.This is taken across all the different cities and locations we visit, with everything looking both unique, but also fitting into the visual landscape of the film. While there are all these big set-piece locations, I was also impressed with all the detail put into the sets. If there is one thing that Weta is good at(and trust me there is more than just one thing) it is in the design of the worlds they build, and you really see it here.
Mortal Engines marks the directorial debut of Christian Rivers, however, he has been in the business for a longtime. He comes to directing from a storyboard artist, and visual effects background, and you see that attention to detail in how the action is framed,and how the world is made. I was also really impressed with the score from Tom Holkenborg that is used throughout the film. These days musical scores fell more and more as they should hide into the background, well this is not the case here. If I was to use one word to describe the score it would be bombastic, but that perfectly fits a film with giant cities crashing into each other. It also helps when you have a strong cast that helps smooth over the weirdness of a post-apocalyptic world. Here special mention has to go to Stephen Lang for bringing to life a character that could have been a disaster if played wrong. Also, even though it is a small role, it is great to see Frankie Adams own the screen, and I think Jihae is going to have an amazing film career in her future.
Where the film does not work as well as in the adaptation, because I don’t think they quite got the balance between the style of a book and the constraints of a movie. Now because we will be talking about the story, there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead. Now for some, I think they will be put off because it does spend a lot of time placing itself into that Young Adult Novel realm. That was not so much an issue for me because of you kind of expect that as a price of entry just given the genre. However, one of the big issues with adapting a book to a film is that you have to compress all of the story into a two-hour film. From looking at the synopsis of the book, it looks like they follow it reasonably well bar cutting out one subplot and toning down the ending. However, this still meant you had to introduce a lot of new characters, that don’t get a lot of airtime, and that limits your engagement to a certain extent. So, for example, there was one character that from like their second line of dialogue I knew that they would die by the end, and sure enough, there we go. It also meant that I don’t think they quite got the right balance when they cut between the different plot lines so some of the flow was lost.
In the end, do we recommend Mortal Engines? Yes, yes I do. Now it did need a little bit of work, with the adaptation. It is an impressive film from a technical perspective, it is such an interesting concept, that you want to see more of it, and more importantly, it has made me want to finally go and pick up the books, and I would call that success.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV,he’ll be talking about International Relations,or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Mortal Engines
Directed by – Christian Rivers
Screenplay by – Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson
Based on – Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
Music by – Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL)
Cinematography by – Simon Raby
Edited by – Jonno Woodford-Robinson
Starring – Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Stephen Lang, Leila George, Frankie Adams, Caren Pistorius, Andrew Lees, Colin Salmon, Ronan Raftery, Joel Tobeck, Patrick Malahide, Sarah Munn, Nathaniel Lees, Calum Gittins, Yoson An, Stephen Ure, Menik Gooneratne, Regé-Jean Page, Mark Mitchinson, Mark Hadlow, Sarah Peirse, Kee Chan, Poppy MacLeod & Leifur Sigurdarson
Rating – Australia: M; Canada:PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M;United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13