Engines Running Out Of Steam
Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows takes a look at Mortal Engines, produced by Peter Jackson and based on Philip Reeve’s book of the same name, out now in cinemas…
Mortal Engines is a film based on the hugely popular books written by British author Philip Reeve, a series of four novels. When Peter Jackson announced this, it seemed like an interesting choice as he does have decent form mostly when it comes to fantasy. However, Mortal Engines is only produced by him and directed by Weta veteran Christian Rivers. I admit I have never read any of Reeve’s books but I was intrigued.
Unfortunately watching Mortal Engines, you are struck by how much better the whole affair could have been if it were directed by a more experienced director. Obviously Reeve has created a wonderfully rich world in his books but all of the various elements here collapse under the sheer weight of the amount of information and exposition that the filmmakers need to shoehorn in to help the viewer make sense of this world we have been thrown into. The other problem here is the script, written by regular Jackson collaborators Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and even Jackson himself. The dialogue is often cringeworthy and very clunky, shooting for quirky but often coming across at sub BBC drama level. The actors don’t help things either: Weaving tries to do what he can with a very poor script but Leila George who plays his daughter couldn’t be any more wooden if she was made of pine. Hera Hilmar, who plays the enigmatic orphan Hester Shaw, isn’t bad but the awful script doesn’t really do her character any favours either.
Visually Mortal Engines is all over the shop too. Some of the city designs are pretty impressive although they don’t all look like they could be built even in an alternate world but other aspects of the film just don’t work on screen like Anna Fang’s ship which reminds the viewer more of a wonder bra than a feat of futuristic engineering.
It is such a shame. Mortal Engines had such potential when it was announced but there is just too much detail for a director and their team to digest and bring to the screen that it just collapses under its own weight. With a better script and tighter direction, it may have been a much better film. Worldwide, its box office is $19m as of this writing and for a $100m budget film, that doesn’t augur well. I take no pleasure in writing this review but it seems pretty unlikely that we shall be seeing a follow-up to this on the big screen. It is possible that, just like Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, TV was a more natural home for Reeve’s creations and that may happen in a few years’ time. File under missed opportunity.
Here’s the trailer for the film too